For two decades now, the Drive-by Truckers have confronted the racial and social realities of living in the Deep South, but the group’s last two albums have taken a broader view on the state of our country in the age of Donald Trump. And it is obvious that songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley don’t like what they see.
2016’s American Band, which featured songs about gun violence and racism in a divided country, was hailed as a creative rebirth for the group, prompted in part by Hood’s move from Georgia to Portland, Ore. The group has doubled down with The Unraveling, which was released last month and takes on the opioid epidemic, U.S.- Mexico border relations, and angry alt-right whites, among other topics.
Back on the road, the Truckers came to Washington, D.C., for sold-out shows at the 9:30 Club on Friday and Saturday. And the energy in the packed club, which holds 1,200, was combustible as Hood, Cooley, bassist Matt Patton and drummer Brad Morgan cranked up the volume so loud that it could have been heard at the White House just two miles away.
Loud is to be expected at a DBT show — go without earplugs at your own risk — as are different setlists when the band is playing multiple nights in the same city. After a 30-song marathon Friday that did not end until well after midnight, Saturday’s show that I saw and photographed featured 24 songs, only 10 of which had been played the night before. (Both nights featured Buffalo Nichols, an excellent guitarist and singer, as the opener. Check him out if you can.)
Fifteen of the 24 songs came from three albums: “The Unraveling,” “American Band,” and 2001’s “Southern Rock Opera,” the group’s breakthrough concept album about George Wallace, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the devil. They were bookended by two of my favorite DBT songs to hear live — opener “The Living Bubba” from 1998’s “Gangstabilly” and a cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” that closed out the evening.
Not surprisingly, the band played two-thirds of The Unraveling, with “Babies in Cages,” Cooley’s chilling “Grievance Merchants” and lead single (if there is such a thing these days) “Thoughts and Prayers” the highlights. I especially enjoyed “Thoughts and Prayers,” a gun control song that Hood wrote after talking with his children about lockdown drills at their school; the line “stick it up your ass with your useless thoughts and prayers” brought cheers from many in the audience.
The last five songs, which came after “Thoughts and Prayers” and ended with the Carroll cover, seemed to sum up the feelings of many in the band and in the crowd about the current state of the state. “Surrender Under Protest,” “Let There Be Rock,” Shut Up and Get on the Plane,” and “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy” should be enough to show that, after more than two decades together, DBT’s commitment to examining our collective “duality” is a long way from over.
And to that, I say, “Thank goodness.” https://www.drivebytruckers.com