Drive-By Truckers, Canal Club, Richmond, VA- 12/17
Regardless of what their touring schedule might look like, the five road-weary Drive-By Truckers can always find some semblance of a rest in Richmond, VA, however short their stay might be. Having visited the city twice already in 2004 (plus one date cancelled due to flooding), their third and final stopover of the year was at least an extended visit, if not necessarily a homecoming. The weekend's host opened up the larger ballroom in honor of its guest's recent successes, and while the Canal Club wasn't quite packed to the walls, the welcoming committee made it obvious that the move up from Alley Katz had been the right one.
The larger, lower room was already abuzz when opening DJ, Jay "From Alabama" Levitt, sauntered up to begin his now-traditional set of Muscle Shoals classics produced just steps from his and several of the Truckers’ backyards. Concentrating mostly on the early soul days of Muscle Shoals, Levitt eventually left the stage to Athens, GA up-and-comers Southern Bitch, who shook the rafters of the old tobacco warehouse with numbers from their latest, Snake In the Grass, as well as a few still to come on their next. Their heavy AC/DC-cum-Skynyrd riff rock concluded with their own epic of "True Born Leader," "Don’t You Think It’s Time" and "Tell Me/I Won’t Follow," leaving the crowd gassed, oiled and revved-up for what promised to be a long, loud trip through The Dirty South.
Before tearing out across the slick, red clay of their most recent material, though, the Drive-By Truckers opened with the Patterson Hood-penned, hard blues Christmas carol, "Mrs. Klaus’ Kimono." After ripping through the wrapping paper, the five grown kids commenced to enjoying their newer gifts and exploring their more devious side on the Alabama crime syndicate trilogy of "Buford Stick," "Cottonseed" and "Boys From Alabama," all of which take digs at the inherent hypocrisy in southern Puritanism.
In the live setting, Jason Isbell’s bittersweet "The Day John Henry Died" trades its resigned defeatism for a livid, three-guitar assault, and "Never Gonna Change," which could easily stand as the band’s theme song, erupted like an angry mountain while the band held on through a final, earth-shattering explosion. "Sinkhole" shook the ground a little more before giving in to the beefy self-loathing of "Your Daddy Hates Me."
Mike Cooley’s heart shone from his sleeve on his odes to Sun Records and NASCAR, "Carl Perkin’s Cadillac" and "Daddy’s Cup," while Patterson Hood reached back into the catalog for "Sandwiches for the Road" and "The Company I Keep," which appear on the soon to be re-released Gangstabilly and Pizza Deliverance, respectively. A surprise cover of Tom Petty’s "Rebel" urged the crowd into a rousing singalong until Isbell’s ballad, "Goddamn Lonely Love," broke their raucous hearts to lovesick pieces, only to be gathered back up again and tossed like confetti for the thundering, set-closing trio of "Do It Yourself," "Where the Devil Don’t Stay" and the anthemic "Southern Thing."
Returning to the stage for a solo, acoustic run through his newly-penned "Grandaddy" before the full band’s four-song encore, Patterson Hood took up a fuzzy, red and white Santa hat from the stage and let his newfound fatherly instincts take over, spewing forth an everyman rant against the injustice of the naughty vs. nice dogma of Christmas-time and proclaiming that "Bein’ too good’s not good for you!" When both his tirade and his song were done, the rest of the band rejoined him for a run through his own "Tornadoes" and Cooley’s "Zip City."
Since their induction into the band, Jason Isbell and his wife, bassist Shonna Tucker, have single-handedly exposed the softer side of the heretofore gruff and manly Hood, Cooley and Brad "EZB" Morgan, and nowhere is the band’s bleeding heart more evident than on Isbell’s father-to-son confessional, "Outfit." The poignant lyrics take on even more weight when sung from Isbell’s sly yet innocent face. After reaching out and touching the audience’s hearts, of course, the Truckers couldn’t help but close the evening by stomping all over them on Hood’s surrealistic "Buttholeville," from the also soon to be re-released Gangstabilly. Much of the ever-growing Trucker catalog was left to explore, though, and many fans would return the following night for another barroom brawling, southern drawling rock show. For those who would not, however, Richmond is sure to host its favorite southern cousins again soon, and they can rest assured that these guests will bring only the best favors for their gracious host.