Drive-by Truckers, Liquid Room, Edinburgh
Friday 08 August 2008
Here's how to back-handedly insult a nation and get away with it.
"When we come to Europe we feel far from home," says Drive-By Truckers' singer Patterson Hood, "and then we come to Scotland, I'm not kidding, and it feels like we never left. You make us feel so welcome – you're all just a buncha rednecks."
Of course, that's just about the highest compliment which Hood can deliver to the crowd – whooping, cheering, but slightly unsure whether to be offended or not. The singer and his band are based in Athens, Georgia at the minute, in the south-eastern home of more apparently cultured icons like REM, but half of their number, including Hood, hail from the Shoals area of Alabama. In this respect it's a proud but possibly semi-ironic thing, to be a redneck.
In order to ply the kind of unreconstructed, good ol' boy country that the Truckers engage in, some degree of irony is a prerequisite. So the Truckers can laugh along with us and at themselves just a little, and this sprinkles a touch of modernity on a band who might otherwise be seen as simply Skynyrd revivalists.
"I guess I'll never grow a sideburn/ It's a shame", sings Hood at the beginning of recent track "A Ghost to Most", and that's a joke right there. This must be the hairiest band in the South, with the obvious exception of bassist Shonna Tucker, although drummer Brad Morgan's flowing beard more than compensates. That truckstop-layabout look of check shirt, washed-out denim and unshaven chin is the favoured look among the male DBTs.
A sound to match the look is the favoured Trucker style, with lengthy guitar solos and many verses padding out each track well beyond the typical three-minute pop song structure. Hood and co make music for long car journeys with your friends, or lazy Southern afternoons off with a beer, yet what they do might also sound a bit interminable to many.
They play for nearly two hours, and although John Neff's gorgeous pedal steel sound is one not to tire of, Hood and Mike Cooley's guitar solos do grow wearying. The set ebbs and flows between twanging ballads and oil-derrick rockers, but the encore provides perhaps the finest distillation of their sound.
Once the purist country-rocking rush of "Where the Devil Don't Stay" and then "Let There Be Rock" (which refers to Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special and, says Hood, to "how rock'n'roll saved my life as a teenager") have passed by, a thrashing country-punk cover of Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" crystallises the fact that Drive-By Truckers own the genre they inhabit, and not the other way around.
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