Based on a sample size of one gig and two albums, I am confident in my assessment that the Drive By Truckers are peerless rock gods.
Barry introduced me to The Dirty South, their latest album, praising it and playing it on one of our innumerable trips to the hills. It didn't stand out that much alongside all the other folk/rock he subjects me to on those long car journeys but when he offered me a spare ticket to a rare London gig I thought it would make an interesting departure from a normal week night out.
At the small and sweaty Camden Lock, in a not-quite-full venue peopled by middle-aged rockers, slightly misplaced London fashionistas and a baffled me, the five Truckers sauntered out unassumingly on stage and then took control of the evening. Every rock and roll cliche came true in the small gap between where I listened slack-jawed and where created their tender and ferocious sound. They played with such obvious enjoyment and drunken exuberance I was converted from dispassionate observer to whooping and hollering participant in a rock and roll night out.
Languid, lazy and loud, they passed a bottle of whiskey between them during songs and drank liberally. Each of them got steadily drunker, swaying crazily as they played and finding emotion and heart to drive out their songs. Patterson Hood, excellently named core of the band, howled and raged and captivated me as he told his stories.
The only other remotely comparable gig I've ever been to was The Pixies touring Surfer Rosa seventeen years ago. I've waited half my life to see another gig of similar quality. When the five Drive-by Truckers swaggered off just after eleven, I hit a high that stuck for two days.
What the energising live experience didn't reveal, but repeated listening to any of their albums surely does is their abundant talents as lyricists. It's not just Patterson Hood who can write a mean set of words, all three guitarists seem to be equally capable. With a poetic economy, they paint vivid pictures of Southern American life. From cheery anthems about Steve McQueen or dirt track racing, to sad tales of suicide attempts and the woe of a dirt poor life in a wealthy society, even 6,000 miles of cultural separation can't hide the versimilitude of their tales.
They're playing more gigs in the UK later on this year, go and see them.
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