Last Night: Drive-By Truckers At House Of Blues
To be considered "great," a rock group needs to occasionally (at least) spread itself beyond the confines of songs about chasing girls/ditching school to touch on more universal themes. Some acts come to this realization early on (Bruce, U2), others...a little longer (The Replacements, The Ramones).
Drive-By Truckers, now in their 14th year of existence and widely regarded as one of the greatest rock bands in the world, are firmly in the former category.
But where Springsteen's songs are all about yearning and seizing that single speck of hope in an otherwise dead-end life - some guys may die "piece by piece," but there are others who spend their evenings racing in the streets - the Truckers present no such silver lining. Their songs offer either plaintive resignation of working in the Walmart after your wife dies of cancer ("Puttin' People On The Moon") or proud belligerence of yeah, my brother got picked up for drug trafficking, but they couldn't make the charges stick ("Never Gonna Change").
At their best, DBTs are the raspy voices of the Recession Generation.
Their latest album, The Big To-Do, has taken some lumps for maybe finding the band trying too hard to be "accessible." True, Aftermath is not as big a fan of it as some of the earlier stuff, but the classic Truckers themes are there. Just listen to "This Fucking Job" or "Get Downtown."
But as any DBT fan knows, the albums are merely the antipasto to the live shows' main course; dripping two-plus hour slabs of rock, country and R&B driven by the triple-guitar attack of Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and John Neff. The band served all this and more to the House of Blues Thursday night. And while the crowd (which was rather sparse to begin with) dwindled as the show went on, the Truckers cranked up the intensity almost in defiance of the fact.
The band took the stage at 10:15 p.m. to the recorded strains of their single "Your Woman Is A Livin' Thing," and opened with "Bulldozers and Dirt," a quieter selection from Pizza Deliverance. But just in case anyone was doubting this was, in fact, to be a ROCK SHOW, they jumped into the live standard "A Ghost to Most" and "Santa Fe" from the latest album.
Whether or not switching to some heavier numbers early on was a premeditated decision or one prompted by typical Houston audience douchebaggery, we can't say. Their fifth song, the haunting "The Deeper In," was essentially ruined by the crowd's animated conversations covering such intriguing topics as who was getting the next round and how much they hated their jobs.
Huh, drinking problems and career malaise. Maybe these assholes should have been paying more attention to the music.
"Sink Hole," in spirit a sinister response to John Mellencamp's "Rain On the Scarecrow," and "Uncle Frank" set a familiar theme for the rest of the night: Desperation. Thursday night's set consisted almost entirely of songs for the economically and emotionally disenfranchised (an exception being "Life in the Factory," dedicated to the late Coach Leonard Skinner).
The band played surprisingly little of their latest album, perhaps realizing that older cuts like "Hell No I Ain't Happy" and "Gravity's Gone" still resonate with us. Maybe even moreso lately.
Which isn't to lump DBTs into the unpleasant Tea Party phenomenon. Having grown up in the rural South, the band knows poverty isn't tied to any particular administration's policies. As the song says, "And all the politicians/They're all lyin' sacks of shit."