4 photos by Missy Curtis; marquee photo by Jason Davidson
Drive-By Truckers @ The Princess Theatre Decatur, AL 9.27.19
Always go to the show. It’s a mantra I try and live by especially when it comes to bands I like. Native sons, the Drive-By Truckers, decided Decatur, Alabama needed a double shot of the southern thing as they wrapped up their fall tour with a two-night stand at the historic Princess Theatre. I got there in time to catch Jimbo Mathus, who you might remember from his time fronting the Squirrel Nut Zippers, as the opener. Having lost track of his career I really didn’t know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised at his swampy, straight ahead rock and roll. The crowd was still filing in but those in attendance seemed to get more into Jimbo with each passing song. It served as a nice appetizer to what I fully expected to be an incredible full course meal from the Truckers.
The theatre was cavernous, one of those big old rooms and I was curious how the band was going to sound. My fears were quickly put to rest as the opening chords of “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac” fill the hall. Keeping the Dirty South theme in mind the band plowed ahead into “Putting People on the Moon.” The drums were pounding, the three-guitar attack was filling the cavernous space with urgency, and the crowd was on their feet as it was evident the band had no plan to phone it in. Mike Cooley’s trademark sound cranks up as he goes into “Gravity’s Gone.” A solid track it segues nicely into the classic murder tune “Drag the Lake Charlie.” The thuggish low end, drums that seemed louder and thicker than usual, Hoods yearning vocals, complimented by Cooley’s excellent slide guitar work, really set the tone for what the band wanted to accomplish that night. “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife” is still one of my favorite songs and it was great to hear it again. The Cooley song “Sounds Better in a Song” from Decoration Day just continued the ebb and flow of what was turning into a memorable night. Flavored perfectly by Jay Gonzalez on keys, it showcased Cooley’s vocal prowess and his fantastic turn of a phrase. Continuing the trip down memory lane we are gifted with a “Sandwiches for the Road” about Eddie Hinton, the troubled artist, who apparently had made his home in a Decatur park for a period of time before he passed away in 1995. The guitar sound was weaving in and out as the track built to an anthem like close. Whew, with about ten songs in the band has not let up for a second as the set continues to build and build.
Patterson Hood takes centerstage for the fan favorite “Heathens” before Cooley knocks everyone back on their heels with the Southern Rock Opera gem “Women Without Whiskey.” It is an epic moment and everyone is feeling it, Patterson Hood included as he mugs and plays to the crowd. We get two more Decoration Day tracks with “My Sweet Annette” and Cooley’s damn near perfect “Marry Me” with a three-guitar attack towards the end just to make the point that the crowd is in the presence of America’s greatest rock band. If the audience needed confirmation that the band was on a mission they were about to get it in spades as “Buttholeville,” Hood’s barbed tongued indictment of his surroundings, unfurled onstage. It was snarling, gritty, and a reminder of how powerful and propulsive the band can be at any given moment. 16 songs in and it feels like the boys are really starting to lock in the groove for what has already been an outstanding show. With a foot firmly pressed all the way down on the accelerator they plow into the Cooley classic “Three Dimes Down.” Played at a breakneck pace it finds a willing audience ready to jump aboard for a wild ride. It is a song that is difficult to follow and instead of dipping into their own impressive catalog, we get a spot-on cover of Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ “Bout Love.” You can call them anything you want but after twenty-three years together you can’t call them predictable. Until the new record comes put fans will have to be content with catching some new songs in the live environment. “Slow Ride Argument” is pure Cooley, and the band winds it up perfectly before coming to a dead stop. “Babies in Cages” is one of the most powerful songs I have heard from DBT, period. Its dark, swirling melody and visceral punch to the gut leaves me wanting more and more. Patton’s bass owns the low end and the drumming drives the song along. It is dangerous and foreboding like walking through a bad part of town at night. It is everything I love about the Drive-By Truckers. “The Southern Thing” is amped up and has this odd kinda “Life In the Fastlane” pace about it, which isn’t a bad thing, just seemed a little different than usual. Bassist Mike Patton rips through a true to the original cover of the Ramones classic “The KKK Took My Baby Away” which is a fun way to start the wind down. “Sink Hole” and “Uncle Frank” are met with applause before Jimbo Mathus comes out to join the band for “Grand Canyon.” Closing the show with triple guitars and Gonzalez pounding away on the keys is just the way you could picture it in your mind. The vocals echo throughout the theatre as the song just keeps driving and getting bigger and bolder. Mission accomplished, Hood and Cooley walk off stage as the band plays the song out.
It was…a hell of a show. The song selection was on target and everything flowed well throughout the evening. The band played an epic set the night before in New Orleans and I wondered if it would impact the first Decatur show. The band didn’t miss a beat. They took the stage in north Alabama with a sense of urgency and they did not let up over the course of a non-stop twenty-seven song set. I am not sure there is a better rock band working and they show no signs of slowing down. There are a handful of shows in Texas and Oklahoma this November before Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are out doing their standard late fall tours and I suggest you try and catch them if you can. The Truckers are in their prime and firing all cylinders so take your Flintstones, a red bull or two and catch the rock show when it rolls through your town. https://www.therealjimbomathus.com. https://www.drivebytruckers.com