Brighter than creation's dark: Shonna Tucker (left) and Mike Cooley Photos by Chris Gray
For some reason, last night’s epic Drive-By Truckers show - two solid hours of soul-searing rock and roll, lump-in-the-throat-raising country and spine-cracking R&B – reminded me of when Prince’s Purple Rain character The Kid tells wide-eyed ingénue Apollonia, “You have to purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.” God only knows how many times I’ve seen the band over the past decade, but I never fail to come away feeling invigorated and motherfucking alive. It’s not just the booze, either, but a Truckers show is always worth the hangover.
Since turning the corner from the Southern-fried Replacements sound of first two albums Gangstabilly and Pizza Deliverance into the full-on arena grandeur of 2001’s Southern Rock Opera, the Truckers have gradually infused more and more pre-rock music (both black and white) into their songs, which have as many gnarled roots and branches as the average Southern family tree. But at the core they remain a rock and roll band, and that core melted down all over Meridian’s main room (which was about two-thirds full) Wednesday night.
Opening the extended set – perhaps payback for not playing Houston since 2005 - with the brooding “Tornadoes,” co-frontman Patterson Hood’s harrowing tale (from 2004 LP The Dirty South) of coming off tour only to be greeted by the titular weather event, the Truckers detoured through honky-tonk territory with two songs from this year’s Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. “A Ghost to Most” found co-frontman Mike Cooley expertly mimicking Mick Jagger circa “Dead Flowers,” while some lonely Wurlitzer keyboards gave “Checkout Time in Vegas” a distinct Merle Haggard feel.
Patterson Hood (left) and drummer Brad Morgan at Cactus Records earlier Wednesday
Then the lashing soul-rock riff, thundering beat from drummer Brad Morgan and deadly electric-piano lick of “Goode’s Field Road,” also from Creation’s, switched on the amplifiers’ afterburners, and it was off to the races. “Where the Devil Don’t Stay” was charged with giant Pete Townshend-like chords, but still country enough for a frisky couple nearby to start do-si-doing. Any other band would save a song like that for last call – it was Waylonesque, to say the least. Likewise for “3 Dimes Down,” another new one that, despite referencing Bob Seger in the lyrics, lacked only a vintage Stax Records horn section to pass for an Exile on Main Street outtake.
Bassist Shonna Tucker took over lead vocals for yet another Stonesy charger, Creation’s “Home Field Advantage,” and Southern Rock Opera made its first appearance (and hardly the last) on Cooley’s “Women Without Whiskey.” Band and crowd alike were lurching and swaggering through the barbecue rock and roll (lit in red and purple) of Hood’s “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy,” which added a touch of Ziggy Stardust to the band’s fierce Muscle Shoals soul. SRO’s “Ronnie and Neil” was next, which drew an 8.5 on Aftermath’s patented “Power Rock Index.”
Cooley up close
People were pie-eyed at this point, both bars in the room were doing land-office business and the Truckers countered with an absolutely dirt-ripping “Marry Me,” which brought out the band’s latent Ozzy Osbourne/Judas Priest side in the guitar solos and another throwdown guitar slam at the end. A crushing “Let There Be Rock” brought AC/DC down South for a spell, after which Hood stopped the show to reprimand some dingbat down front for hitting a girl with a beer can, commanding this turd burglar “turn around and apologize like a gentleman.”
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The Truckers rocked so hard it was difficult to keep the camera still.
But even that couldn’t stop the Truckers’ momentum. Creation’s Tucker-sung “I’m Sorry Huston” – which reminded Aftermath of those R&B covers Chrissie Hynde used to do with the Pretenders sometimes, and has nothing to do with the city she sang it in Wednesday – gave the band a bit of a breather, but that’s it. The closing trifecta of SRO’s lethal “Zip City,” Dirty South jackhammer “Puttin’ People on the Moon” and SRO's supercharged Sun Records homage “Get Your Ass on the Plane” – which rattled the windows with absolutely no assistance from the weather – absolutely turned out the lights, rolled up the carpet and caught the next plane for the coast.
Some dude was still yelling for “Heathens” long after the band left the stage, and as the roadies were breaking down the Truckers’ gear, I noticed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s on Tucker’s amp. An empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
No wonder the show ruled. – Chris Gray