The last rays of a fabulous late August sunset had just slipped away as Mike Cooley launched into “Made Up English Oceans,” kicking off a muscular co-headlining set by Drive-By Truckers for the Moontower Music Festival last night at Masterson Station Park. Alternating songs, as has always been the case with the band, with fellow guitarist and vocalist Patterson Hood, Cooley set into motion a performance that crammed assorted tales of Southern solemnity and unrest into an atypically brief hour long session. While Truckers shows are usually twice that length or more, the band wasted not a moment in showcasing their sagas of the new South and the very old sentiments that inhabit them.
Hood quickly countered “English Oceans” with a Clash-like revision of “The Righteous Path,” a portrait of sobering Southern pride (“I got a couple of big secrets I’d kill to keep hid”) before Cooley answered again with “Ramon Casiano,” a wild tale of militia men self-appointed as makeshift (and somewhat shifty) border patrol officers.
There were just a few words of greeting from Hood and a song or two that decelerated the set’s highly electric charge into more folk derived but equally restless reflection, like “The Guns of Umpqua” (one of several tunes, like “Casiano,” previewed from the Truckers’ forthcoming “American Band” album). But the set’s emotive turbulence was always in play, reaching a zenith with the show-closing “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy” and its torrential guitar storm from Hood and Truckers utility man Jay Gonzalez. Then, as if with the snap of the fingers, the set was over.
Manchester Orchestra closed out Moontower with a sound that huge, exact and more than a little temperamental. Frontman Andy Hull actually began the set by mock-crooning the chorus of the Neil Diamond classic “Sweet Caroline,” which was part of a very odd mash-up of music played DJ-style between acts. The song could not have been less Manchester-like, despite the clarity of Hull’s high tenor vocals. But after a moment, the band’s bludgeoning sound came barreling out in the form of “Pride,” placing Manchester’s high decibel angst in motion.
As musically tight as the set was, Hull and company seemed especially loose onstage, whether it was through a curious interlude tune about baseball celeb Barry Bonds or Hull’s joking claim that the new album the band was about to begin recording sessions for was going to be “hip hop oriented.”
Those antics aside, Manchester played like a bulldozer with a massive arc of sound that propelled tunes like “Pensacola,” “Pale Black Eye” and “Everything to Nothing.” What was remarkable was how ordered the music was. This wasn’t something sloppy post punk free for all or metal head brawl, but a set of downcast rock ruminations that were as potent as they were precise.
Troy Andrews, known professionally as Trombone Shorty, preceded the two headline acts with an hour of heavy rock-infused funk. While Andrews is a new generation musical ambassador of New Orleans, little of his set seemed rooted in Crescent City tradition. Instead, he opted for a highly physical crossover sound that drew upon more mainstream soul sources, like the James Brown medley of “Lose My Mind” and “Keep It Funky.”
The real magic, though, came when Andrews simply let things roll on trumpet and, of course, trombone. Original tunes like “The Craziest Things” didn’t always fan the abundant musical flames of his band, Orleans Avenue. But when the focus shifted to instrumentals, Andrews and his two-man saxophone team engaged in furious, syncopated exchanges that turned the musical gumbo at hand into a proud groove sound that was distinctly their own.