in performance: drive-by truckers

Drive-By Truckers: Matt Patton, Brad Morgan, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Jay Gonzalez. Photo by Danny Clinch.

Here’s how the evening began. Fasten your seat belts.

The moment Drive-By Truckers took the stage at Manchester Music Hall last night Patterson Hood stopped in his tracks, pointed to the bar at the back of the venue and ordered all of the televisions in operation to be turned off. But what incensed him more than the TVs being on was who was on them – Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity. That triggered a profanity laden tirade from Hood who then encouraged the crowd to turn around, face the bar and shoot a unison greeting and hand gesture to Mr. Hannity that was, shall we say, not welcoming.

With that the Truckers put their cards on the table as to where they stood politically before a single note was played. But just in case there were doubts, the band then kicked into a show-opening tune from its 2016 album “American Band” that was topical to the point of being frightening. It was “Guns of Umpqua,” Hood’s reflection on the shootings that shook Umpqua Community College in Oregon two years ago to the day of Sunday’s horrifying gun-related deaths in Las Vegas. That the song was melodically one of the calmest works performed all night simply underscored the arching tragedy of both events.

How do you calm the masses after a one-two punch like that? Well, co-frontman Mike Cooley’s militia gone amok rocker “Ramon Casiano” and another Hood tune of the times, the hook-heavy “Darkened Flags at the Cusp of Dawn” (two more entries from “American Band”) followed. But in short order, Hood lightened, took in the feverish response of the crowd before him and confessed to the unavoidable joy that came from the resulting artist/audience chemistry. “This is the first time I’ve smiled in two days,” he said.

With that Hood, addressed the week’s other loss – Monday’s sudden death of Tom Petty. The Truckers didn’t so much eulogize the iconic Southern-born rocker as celebrate him at several points. Early in the show came a joyous reading of “The Waiting” that was remarkably faithful to the Byrds-like pop sway of Petty’s original 1981 version. But less obvious was the title tune to Petty’s 1985 album “Southern Accents” that prefaced “Ever South,” yet another Hood song from “American Band.” Set to a grim, militaristic beat by drummer Brad Morgan, the mash-up let the Petty tune speak to the stereotypes outsiders inflict upon Southerners while Hood’s song dealt with remaining steadfast amid stereotypes Southerners inflict upon themselves.

Given how Hood is, in effect, the Truckers’ emcee onstage, it can be easy to overlook Cooley’s contributions. In fact, the two frontmen traded off songs for the entire program. Cooley may possess a more modest stage presence, but his songs roared, especially during the electric jubiliance of “Marry Me,” the grittier reserve of “72 (This Highway’s Mean)” and the jolting “American Band” work “Surrender Under Protest” that placed him, Hood, co-guitarist/keyboardist Jay Gonzalez and bassist Matt Patton in a unified front line across the front of the stage.

Oh, and there was also a just-for-fun cover of Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen,” with Hood singing lead, to remind us Halloween is just a few weeks away. No doubt that was performed for those that thought the times weren’t scary enough already.

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