“G G Allin!” hollered a guy from the bar, as Patterson Hood and the rest of the Downtown Rumblers took to the Fine Line stage. “There’ll be no ‘G G Allin'” Patterson replied, barely cracking a smile.
No, there would be no “G G Allin,” no “Sinkhole,” no “Let There Be Rock,” nor any other rowdy Drive By Truckers rave-ups. Dude, that’s a CELLO onstage, fer crissakes! The cool cover tonight would be a smoothly rocking version of Big Star’s “September Gurls,” not Jim Carroll’s manic “People Who Died.” That vaunted three-guitar lineup? This night, it consisted of Patterson on acoustic, with the Campbell sisters (from the too-precious opening act, Hope For A Golden Summer) gently plucking and strumming along. And, to top it off, not a Jack Daniels bottle in sight! Clearly, this was not going to be a Drive By Truckers show, nor even DBT Lite. Instead, with a set list long on tracks from his fine new CD, “Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance,” augmented by a careful selection of songs from his previous solo and DBT work, Patterson explored themes of family and friends, leaving and loss. Welcome to the inner world of Patterson Hood.
Of the roughly 20 songs played that night, fully half were from the new album. Opening with “Leaving Time,” Patterson gave us the flip side of “Road Cases.” Where the latter celebrated the camaraderie of the touring rock ‘n roll band, “Leaving Time” considers the impact on the family left behind: “Do what your told without a fuss / Run the errands and load the bus / Don’t forget to give a damn about us / When it comes to leaving time.”
More introspective, personal songs followed: “12:01,” a sad new reminiscence about the “zombies,” who would cross the county line from Patterson’s home, where the more liberal liquor laws would allow off sale to take place a minute after midnight Sunday; his remembrance of “Little Bonnie,” a sister who died before Patterson was born; “Daddy Needs A Drink” – by this time, who didn’t?; culminating in another new song, “Disappear,” in which the protagonist notes, “Sometimes it’s much better to just not be there.”
“September Gurls,” quickly broke the somber mood, with “Bulldozers And Dirt,” (proudly introduced as “The first Drive By Truckers song ever recorded, on June 10, 1996”) and “Uncle Disney” adding their own twisted levity to the proceedings.
Closing out the evening with a series of songs from the new CD, including a wistful number co-written with Kelly Hogan and dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt (“Come Back Little Star”), Patterson took pains to reflect on relationships gone bad (“After The Damage,” “Betty Ford,” “Better Off Without,” and, from 2009’s “Murdering Oscar,” “Pollyanna”), before launching into an engaging monologue about his late, beloved great uncle, George Johnson. This, in turn, led into the title song to the new album, a paean to the strength of family and place. A satisfying evening, all in all, and – in contrast to a Drive By Truckers’ concert – one that didn’t leave the audience exhausted, hoarse, and deaf.
One can speculate whether the new songs signal a change of character and personality for the chief Trucker, or are simply a reflection of the calmer, subdued side of Patterson Hood. After all, this is at least his third commercially-released solo effort, and neither “Killers And Stars” nor “Murdering Oscar” embodied the unrestrained urgency of the DBTs at their best. Still, there is a level of maturity – both personal and artistic – in his current performance and record that is different from the fellow we’ve seen writhing on the floor at the end of a Drive By Truckers concert, and that’s a refreshing change. Artists need to grow, and the best ones aren’t one-dimensional. But, let’s hope Mr. Hood’s still got a few more “18 Wheels Of Love” left in him!