Drive-By Truckers, The Vic Theatre, Chicago, IL- 10/31
Walking into Chicago’s Vic Theatre on October 31, it’s difficult to tell who is dressed for Halloween, who always sports a cowboy hat over their dreadlocks, and who is caught somewhere in the middle. But from the could-be Alabama ass whuppers to the glow-in-the-dark human jellyfish, the eclectic crowd seems to have one thing in common: they all came for the rock and roll show.
Hot off the sold-out Dubuque, Iowa show that kicked off their fall run, the Drive-By Truckers seem determined to make Halloween night – at one of their favorite venues in one of their favorite cities, according to frontman Patterson Hood – a night to remember. From the onset of the show, fans are treated to nothing less than a production: the lights go out dramatically, AC/DC is discharged from the speakers and the band takes the stage in what we later find out is their best attempt to dress like The Rolling Stones.
“Happy Halloween, mother fuckers!” Hood proclaims, before he takes a swig of Patron, whips off his top hat and American flag cape, and reveals his black, sparkly “Mick Jagger” shirt and wristbands. The band continues to channel the Stones, while staying close to their country-soaked blues roots, with a funky “Honky Tonk Woman” cover. Among hearing the first sharp chord of the next tune – 2004’s “Where the Devil Don’t Stay,” the crowd whoops with delight. Co-leader Mike Cooley – who is most convincing as his Stones alter ego – successfully channels Keith Richards as he continues through the rocking foot-stomper.
“Turn it up?” Hood asks in his thick Alabama accent before pushing forward through the monster 25-song setlist. After slowing it down for a twang-infused “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” Hood takes a moment to explain the next song, which he dedicates to his “dear friend Kelly (singer/songwriter Kelly Hogan) who lives in Chicago.” The song – “The Living Bubba” – is about their mutual friend Greg, who played at a little bar Hood worked at that was smaller than the Vic Theatre dressing room. During the time Hood knew him, he was dying of AIDS, but he continued to perform until he couldn’t anymore, proclaiming “I can’t die now, I’ve got another show to do!”
After a brief exit to slip out of his sparkling getup, Hood returns to the stage for more, including a mellow but rocking “Dead, Drunk and Naked.” Throughout the entire show, it’s not uncommon for band members – particularly Hood – to jump in the air dramatically or drop to their knees to shred, as if the music is lifting them up or weighing them to the ground. “I fucking love Chicago!” Hood shouts more than once throughout the show. Hood then mentions that the band made a new friend last week who happens to live in Chicago. “We told him we were playing here tonight , and he was nice enough to come play a few with us,” he shouts as he extends his arm to stage right.
Dressed to the nines, Blue and his harmonica take the stage. Much to the delight of the audience, Sugar leads the band into the song for which he is best known – the Rolling Stones’ single “Miss You.” As the room fills with the infamous “oh oh ooh oh oh’s” of the song, Hood again proclaims “Happy Halloween, mother fuckers!” Blue sticks around for an extra funky cover of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster” before asking the crowd to show their DBT appreciation, giving hood a loving fist bum and leaving.
What follows is a fantastic mix of gnarly riffs, country beats and tunes that magically fold folk, rock and blues all into one larger-than-life sound. Standouts include a haunting “Sinkhole,” the rocking and Eagles-esque “Marry Me” and a heavy and rough “Hell No I Ain’t Happy.” Hood’s full, forceful and slightly tortured howl is complemented by Cooley’s deep and casual twang. It’s apparent that the two are longtime band mates, as they’ve got the lead vocals pass-off down to an art. Throughout the show, it’s also hard not to eye Matt Patton, the bassist who took over for Shonna Tucker following her departure last year. Donning his Brian Jones garb and the widest grin you’ve ever seen, Patton plays as if DBT is his favorite band and he can’t believe he’s playing with them.
One by one, Hood, Cooley, Patton, drummer Brad Morgan and keyboardist/guitarist Jay Gonzalez exit the stage, drinks in hand. Chants of “DBT” from the band’s loyal following and a few drunk “yeehaws” fill the room as the band’s roadie – “Dirty Paul” – readies the stage and acts as hype man. As the band reenters the stage – for more of a second set than an encore – Hood proclaims “Happy Halloween, again!”
“When we decided we were going to be the Drive-By Truckers dressed like the Stones tonight, we knew we’d have a good Keith, maybe a decent Brian Jones, and the worst Mick Jagger you’ve ever seen,” Hood starts. “But I knew we needed to play a song recorded in my hometown in Alabama. This next song is called ‘Wild Horses.’”
Following the slow and heavy classic – on which Gonzalez steals the show – the band delivers the gift of a seven-song encore. Sugar Blue rejoins the band for obvious fan favorite “Buttholeville” and Cooley takes the reins on “Zip City,” which sends the crowd into an excited and drunken frenzy. Obviously not ready to stop any time soon, Hood asks the crowd, “Do ya’ll want some more rock and roll?” to which they reply with resounding approval. The band rocks through “Let There Be Rock” and “Shut Up and Get on the Plane” before slowly phasing out with “Angels and Fuselage.”
“I wanna thank ya’ll for comin’ out tonight,” Hood says coyly. “But only a small fraction of you dressed up – it’s Halloween mother fuckers! But I guess ya’ll did come out to see us instead of staying the fuck home.”