Show Review: Lucinda Williams and the Drive-by Truckers: Bright Lights on a Gravel Road at the Anthem

Show Reviews

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photos by Glenn Cook photography

Beguiling and blinding, The Anthem’s blazing light storm bore down Friday night as Americana icon, Lucinda Williams, burned through her classic ruminations about heartbreak and loss, and Southern rock powerhouse Drive-By Truckers took a decidedly direct American stand.

First Lucinda.  Her voice initially a bit sluggish, as if still tuned to the sea of her recent Outlaw Country cruise, where she performed the entirety of her 1998 Grammy winning breakthrough album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, but then slowly making landfall as her crowd pleasing 11 song set progressed.

Revisiting a varied mix of fan favorites from her catalog, she was rewarded with the reverence and appreciation befitting her prominent singer-songwriter stature. “Drunken Angel” and “Lake Charles,” both haunting tributes to lives lost early, had her die-hard fans crowding against the stage and singing in mournful cadence right along with her.

Experiencing Lucinda Williams live for the first time offered me the opportunity to appreciate the echoes of influence I had not previously considered.  “Bone of Contention,” imbued with mid-show energy, recalled the escalating momentum of Patti Smith’s “Horses,” while “Atonement,” with its spoken word intensity and stark instrumentation, exuded a distinctly Jim Morrison vibe.  Stalwarts of late sixties/early seventies rock given a cameo in country’s royal court!

Finally, the power trio backing Williams deserves equal credit for the show’s success.  Stuart Mathis (guitar), David Sutton (bass), and Butch Norton (drums) were spot on from the outset.

The rousing climax came with Lucinda Williams from the stage leading her fans, dancing and clapping.  Augmented by Mathis’ blazing guitar, “Joy” was the final exclamation of the night.

After a small purging, the Drive-By Truckers took the stage for an enthusiastic crowd.

Led by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, the current band, which includes Matt Patton (bass), Jay Gonzalez (keyboards), and Brad Morgan (drums), delivered a driving, cohesive, message laden, rock and roll razing, sheer force of a performance.

Trading off center stage spots as they typically do, Hood and Cooley, both originally from The Shoals region of Alabama, demonstrated the trajectory of the band’s narrative from Southern storyteller of identity and place to “every-person’s voice of unrest” in the face of pervasive injustice and a corrosive political climate.

The narrator who reveals, “if I make it through this year/ I think I’m gonna put this bottle down, in “Women Without Whiskey,” Friday night’s show opener, evolves into the consciousness of a nation several songs later in a track from the Drive-By Truckers 2016 spectacular album, American Band:

I mean Barack Obama won
And you can choose where to eat
But you don’t see too many white kids
Lying bleeding on the street

“What It Means” addresses institutionalized racism directly, and that direct delivery was evident in Patterson Hood’s speaking interlude later in the show. He implores his fans to, “just love each other motherf—ers!”as he first heard Patti Smith do at one of her shows.  By now a standard concert inclusion of Hood’s, and—it seems—a good one.

Having recently reviewed Patterson’s Hood’s two solo shows at a smaller, more intimate venue, and having quite accurately reported that those shows were sublime, I wondered how the Drive-By Truckers would measure up.  Well, Friday night at The Anthem the Truckers beams burned high with the best of them.




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