Today’s concert goers crave community and connection. They are getting their fix in a plethora of new or revitalized venues across DC. The Wharf’s Pearl Street Warehouse and Union Stage are two such examples. In music venues such as these, the fractured and divisive rhetoric so prevalent in the city as a whole gives way to the welcoming reassurance that, even as things fall apart, you, my friend, are not alone.
Just as Punk Rock once became a haven for some, Americana music, especially with its artists making accessibility part of their appeal, helps create for its fans a sense of community. This combination of intimate venue and performance was perfectly expressed in Patterson Hood’s two night, solo tour stop at Pearl Street Warehouse. Recalling the ambiance and laid-back vibe of legendary early 20th Century American music halls, Pearl Street Warehouse, with its shared tables and standing area not far from the stage, provided the perfect frame for Drive-By Truckers front-man, Patterson Hood.
Dressed in his everyman button down and faded Dockers, Hood brought his Muscle Shoals narrative, rich and varied as the folks about whom he sings, his guitar, and the vital sense that “putting dialectical narratives into the context of rock songs” is his work that needs to be done right now.
Ronnie and Neil (Southern Rock Opera, 2001), The Righteous Path (Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, 2008), and What it Means (American Band, 2016), all played at both shows, and implore the listener—albeit in very different ways—to recognize how easily poverty, race and class obfuscate the places where we, as human beings, intersect.
Ronnie and Neil narrates the unlikely and oft misunderstood friendship between Lynyrd Skynrd’s Steve Gaines and Canadian singer Neil Young, who wrote two different portraits of “The Southman:”
And Neil helped carry Ronnie in his casket to the ground
And to my way of thinking, us southern men need both of them around
Ronnie and Neil Ronnie and Neil
Rock stars today ain’t half as real
Speaking their minds on how they feel
Let them guitars blast for Ronnie and Neil
The Righteous Path narrates the frustrations of a working class man struggling not to fall off the wagon.
We’re hanging out and we’re hanging on
we’re trying our best we can to keep on keeping on
We got messed up minds for these messed up times
And it’s a thin thin line
Separating his from mine
What It Means offers up a critique of racism and police brutality in American Society:
We want our truths all fair and balanced
As long as our notions lie within it
There’s no sunlight in our ass’
And our heads are stuck up in it
Some overlap in subtext is evident here: Speak your mind, yet respect those whose opinions differ. Recognize that we are all in this together. Be wary of those afraid of new ideas. Simple lessons, Hood assures his listeners, for unnecessarily complicated times.
These truths have found a place in much of Patterson Hood’s writing over the last few years. In an appreciation written for The Bitter Southerner after the death of iconic music genius, Aretha Franklin, Hood honors her legacy and the emotional impact her music has had on his life:“…and those Atlantic recordings are stouter monuments to what’s great about our country than anything that could ever be carved into stone. Her songs are living, breathing monuments to the soul of man and woman and race and history and culture. Of the American ideal. The human experience.”
Of the countless things I love about Patterson Hood (and, trust me, there are countless things), one thing in particular comes to light. His overt political stand against injustice, discrimination, and senseless violence is strengthened by his fundamental belief in the possibility of its antithesis. Aretha Franklin’s greatness is America’s greatness……and that ideal is possible once we as a diverse nation learn, finally, to love each other .
Since his early days in the Drive-By Truckers, Hood has explored a complicated yet loyal allegiance to his Southern roots. His lyrics critique the notion that the Southern birthright is synonymous with George Wallace’s segregationist vision. At the same time, they celebrate the love and appreciation he feels for the region’s people as well as eliciting an intense sense of place.
Songs found on the setlists from last week’s Pearl Street Warehouse shows, such as The Thanksgiving Filter, Daddy Needs a Drink and 18 Wheels of Love explore with humor Hood’s personal history. Hood strips away the noise until we are down to the essential signal. And what we hear, finally, is an underlying harmony that connects us all.
Patterson Hood’s two solo shows at Pearl Street Warehouse were, in a final word, sublime. With wisdom, authenticity, generosity, and wit, he responded to the question, What It Means, asked in one of American Band’s most poignant songs, NOT with an answer, but through helping to create a sense of community in which answers and actions take shape. As one concertgoer told me, “Patterson Hood is the voice of our generation.”