Drive-By Truckers Split It Up at 9:30

IMG_3788The Drive-By Truckers tried something bold with their 10th studio album last fall, “American Band.” Though the title makes it sound like a reprise of the Grand Funk hit, it was actually a collection of its most pointed political commentaries to date, challenging its Southern rock fans with issues of prevalent gun violence, racial injustice and government censorship.

It raged against Trump’s America even before he got elected from rage from the very state that helped elect him.

And while the ratcheted-up tracks from American Band were prominent in the first of two packed nights at the 9:30 Club in D.C., they hardly challenged district politics (any more than, say, “Ronnie and Neil” did), let alone rattle the current resident on Pennsylvania Avenue less than a couple of miles away.

On Friday, Cooley played “the most science based song we’ve ever written,” in honor of Saturday’s big Science March in his “Gravity’s Gone.”

In Saturday’s show, they backloaded his “Once They Banned Imagine,” about the time when Clear Channel put John Lennon’s “Imagine” on a list of don’t-play songs after 9/11, with their own cover of Lennon’s “Just Gimme Some Truth” and the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” a couple of covers they’ve been doing on the current tour.

On Friday, the covers included a fitting one of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper” right out of “Buttholeville,” and the lion’s share of Prince’s “Sign O’ the Times” out of “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy” to end the night.

Friday was the one-year anniversary of Prince’s death, and Hood noted it with anger as a new lyric to “Sign.” Earlier, he altered “Let There Be Rock” that he never saw Skynyrd or the Clash, but he sure saw Prince’s “Dirty Mind” tour.

The Truckers are radical about something other than politics on the tour — they’re refusing to come out for encores and just playing really long shows so full of energy none dare demand more.

Friday’s show began with three new songs right away, Hood’s “Ever South,” Cooley’s “Surrender Under Protest” and Hood’s “Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn.”

Much later would come “Filthy and Fried,” “Ramon Casiano,” “What It Means” and “Once They Banned Imagine,” but the impact almost seemed subsumed in the hail of older songs that dominated, from “Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)” to “Zip City” and “Shut Up and Get on the Plane” from their breakthrough “Southern Rock Opera.”

It’s inexplicable that the band still alternates unwaveringly between a Hood song and a Cooley song all night without exception, trading off tunes (and lead singing duties) as if due to arbitration. This from a band whose best songwriter, Jason Isbell, was forced out a decade ago this month.

This by any measure appears to be a band that should be broken up and touring separately, but they’ve found a way to make it work (maybe through mediation). Still, their way of doing business allows one to clearly distinguish the approach of Hood (generally more shit-kicking) to that of Cooley (more straight-ahead rocking). Both are still striving to put out work that’s strong, though, and willing to stand together to get it across, 20 years after they began.

The Durham, N.C., band Hiss Golden Messenger was a good match for the Truckers, opening with just a handful of tunes by the raspy voiced lead singer M.C. Taylor, and aided considerably by Phil Cook, who played keyboards and assorted guitars.

The setlist for the Drive-By Truckers Friday was: 

  • “Ever South”
  • “Surrender Under Protest”
  • “Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn”
  • “Gravity’s Gone”
  • “Sink Hole”
  • “First Air of Autumn”
  • “My Sweet Annette”
  • “Zip City”
  • “Used to Be a Cop”
  • “Where the Devil Don’t Stay”
  • “Ronnie and Neil”
  • “Ramon Casiano”
  • “Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)”
  • “Marry Me”
  • “Buttholeville” / “State Trooper”
  • “Made Up English Oceans”
  • “The Righteous Path”
  • Fifty and Fried”
  • Margo and Harold”
  • One of These Days”
  • “What It Means”
  • “Once They Banned Imagine”
  • “Let There Be Rock”
  • ”Shut Up and Get on the Plane”
  • “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy” / “Sign O’ the Times”
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