” The Opening Act ” – Drive-By Truckers at Red Rocks


DBT on the big screen

Patterson Hood, flanked by Matt Patton and Mike Cooley. Unlike Sheriff Pusser, no need for “some big-time Hollywood actor playin’ him on the big screen ” !

Concert review: Drive-By Truckers at Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO 8/16/2015

” The clouds started formin’, five o’clock p.m. ..” – Patterson Hood, DBT: ” Tornadoes “

2015 has been the Summer of Rain at the world’s most beautiful outdoor venue, with an extraordinary number of shows doused by evening showers. In June I stood in a hailstorm through a terrific set by Doyle Bramhall II , wondering if my buddy Il Padrone was riding the storm out in the Men’s room, or had bailed for the parking lot. The Rocks is a No Pass Out venue, meaning no runs to the parking lot, but on that night they announced that anyone could retreat to their cars and return when the Tedeschi-Trucks Band could safely start their set. These considerations crossed my mind as I stood in line with other General Admissioners, layered in less-than-waterproof gear as the ” clouds spat rain “. Many artists allow the Rocks to leave the first and last 20 rows as GA, and if you queue up early you’re pretty likely to get a great seat for a cheaper price.

Red Rocks from top

Red Rocks from top before the Rock Show !

As the rain fell on the line, and I gazed at the dry sanctuary of my Tundra not 50 feet away, I ruminated on my personal Pantheon of musicians and bands, wondering just who I’d stand in the rain to see. The Stones, Springsteen, the North Mississippi Allstars….  yeah, the DBT are on that short list. And with the Bestman, JenniRose, and the Biker Chick all counting on me to hold some sweet seats, I hunkered down and waited for Security to wave us in for the long climb to the turnstiles and the run for the primo spots up front.

” I’m just the Opening Act and I hit my mark…” – Hood, DBT: ” The Opening Act “

Having evangelized the DBT Gospel ad nauseum since TJ turned me on to the band in 2003, it pained me to see them have to open for the Alabama Shakes, a band that Patterson Hood helped launch, in their first appearance at the Rocks. Having seen the Shakes open for Neil Young and Crazy Horse back in 2012, I would have passed on this show but for the boys from Muscle Shoals. The band has wound through some lineup changes since the halcyon days of Southern Rock Opera and the tour de force The Dirty South , with Jason Isbell moving on to dominate the new Americana genre, and bassist Shonna Tucker and pedal steel virtuoso John Neff leaving to find their own paths. The current lineup since 2012 features young bassist Matt Patton and Jay Gonzalez on keyboards and guitar, sometimes simultaneously. Most hardcore DBT fans consider the changes a net positive, with no more Tucker compositions to work into sets and the harder rock edge without pedal steel, yet yearn for Isbell to return like the Prodigal Son. With the band tearing into ” Tornadoes “, ” Gravity’s Gone “, ” Lookout Mountain “, and ” Shit Shots Count “, there was no time to mourn past lineups, just ” shut your mouth and get your ass on the plane “.

” Remember it ain’t too late to take a deep breath and throw yourself into it with everything you’ve got… it’s great to be alive ! ” – Hood, DBT: ” World of Hurt “

Perhaps honoring the revered venue, the band shockingly appeared onstage in dress coats and vested suits, with Hood sporting his shortest haircut since high school. Muscle Shoals natives Hood and Cooley traded compositions throughout the set, with iconic tunes like ” Sinkhole ” and ” Uncle Frank ” interspersed with rarely heard  ” Pauline Hawkins ” and ” Get Downtown “. The band doesn’t often play much from A Blessing and A Curse, the     ” not happy album ” borne of the Isbell/Tucker divorce and Jason’s departure, well chronicled in the band documentary The Secret to A Happy Ending. But for this night, the rendition of ” World of Hurt ” took on an uplifting tone, and when Hood spread his arms to embrace the granite amphitheater crowd and holler, ” It’s great to be alive “, it felt like redemption, as if the current band could honor the past and blaze into the future.

DBT onstage

DBT onstage, flanked by some other band’s equipment.

” I’m just the Opening Act and the van is packed; haulin’ ass to another State…” –  Hood,DBT: ” The Opening Act “

When your band is cited by Rolling Stone as the best live act in America not 3 years ago, it might be a bitter pill to have to open for what might be a lesser talent. But regrettably Deserve’s got nothing to do with it, and the band respectfully tore up the stage for their allotted time and creatively avoided upstaging the headliners by announcing that ” Grand Canyon ” would be their last song. The lovely tribute to their late friend and guitar tech Craig Lieske built to a sonic climax as Hood, Cooley, Gonzalez, Patton, and finally drummer Brad Morgan took bows and applause and walked offstage. As the lights came up and the canned blues filtered over the crowd, it was clear there would be no encore from the band famous for several. To nail the end of the set, leaving the crowd yearning for more, and walk off into the Rocky Mountain night…that’s a tough act to follow. I resisted the urge to bust on the unenlightened just entering the Rocks as my crew skipped out past the ushers warning, ” you can’t come back in “. No need to on this night.

” The secret to a Happy Ending is knowing when  to roll the credits…” – Hood, DBT: ” World of Hurt “


Your faithful mountain correspondent, Nanker Phledge



Drive-By Truckers and North Mississippi Allstars

Concert Review- DBT and NMA- 930 Club, Washington, D.C. New Year’s Eve 2012

With the sound of Jack Bruce’s harp on ” Traintime ” in his ears, Nanker rides the rails to DC to usher in the New Year with some good sweet tea and Southern hospitality! — Ed.

Matt Patton, Patterson Hood, and Mike Cooley at the 930 Club, NYE 2012

Matt Patton, Patterson Hood, and Mike Cooley at the 930 Club, NYE 2012

“Neil Young always said that ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was one of his favorite songs, and legend has it he was an honorary pall bearer at Ronnie’s funeral. Such is the Duality of the Southern Thing..” – Patterson Hood, ” Three Alabama Icons “

Quentin Tarantino was explaining to Teri Gross on ” Fresh Air ” about the seminal moment in “Django Unchained ” when the enlightened German dentist turned bounty hunter explains to the recently purchased and freed Django the dynamic they face in 1858 Mississippi as they kill off wanted train robbers now working as field bosses on plantations owned by slave traders: “They are selling living people. I’m selling corpses “. These contradictions played themselves out daily during the Civil War, with families split down the middle and kinfolk shooting at each other.

Southerners since then have had to stay “proud of the glory”, yet “stare down the shame “, as Patterson says, and embrace the duality of their heritage. These contradictions are  evident today in our capital, which is bordered on the North by a Union state, on the South by a Confederate state. Last week the fiscal cliff resolution was rejected by 80% of House Republicans from the Deep South and approved by 80% from the Northeast. Such is the duality of the Capital Thing.

As I climbed off the long escalator from the U Street METRO station, just north of Shaw and Howard Universities, my first sight on the street was the African-American Civil War Memorial. I’d like to think that Tarantino’s Django took his wife North, settled her in, then went back wearing the uni of the Army of the Potomac to give more ass whuppin’s to the slavers, like the brave men in the Memorial.  The Buffalo Soldiers lived the  duality of that era as armed  freed slaves riding back into the South, where many of the locals had never seen a black man on a horse.

The duality of the keyboard/guitar player Jay Fernandez

The duality of the keyboard/guitar player Jay Fernandez

Thankfully, my mission was merely to ride planes, trains and subways to the 930 Club, where two bands born and schooled in the Deep South were rocking the District with music that  reached back both to the Delta blues of antebellum Mississippi and the melting pot of George Wallace’s era in Muscle Shoals and Memphis. The delightful pairing was not coincidental.  The Dickinson boys have known Patterson since they were teens, and the bands go back to Hood and Cooley’s time as Adam’s House Cat. Both bands were in flux; the Allstars’ epic bassist Chris Chew has struggled with health issues and this show was a mere duo. The DBT have only done a few full band shows since the departure of bassist Shonna Tucker in November, 2011, and were apparently surprised by pedal steel whiz John Neff’s checkout a few weeks ago. No new member has been announced, although  Matt Patton from the Dexateens played these three shows, as well as several last year, and looks like a great choice to join the band. He had a huge shit-eatin’ grin the whole night, and knew the deep DBT catalog well enough to cover the audibilizing ( that’s right; they never use a set list, walking onstage with only the opening number agreed) Hood and Cooley as they called out the next tune.

Patton marvels as Patterson shreds!

Patton marvels as Patterson shreds!

The Dickinson boys stoking the fire

The Dickinson boys stoking the fire

The Dickinsons strolled onstage unnoticed and started before some even knew they were on, despite the presence of a sizeable fan contingent, some of whom professed not to know the DBT. The stripped-down duo lineup is a great presentation of the Hill Country blues legacy from R.L. Burnside, Kenny Brown, and Junior Kimbrough all the way back to Fred McDowell, with the sons of Mudboy bringing the elemental rhythms and universal lyrics to life for this generation of fans. Indeed, it’s a joy to see how powerful this true American roots music is for the college kids pogoing around geezers like me. Luther and Cody shifted tempos and tunes easily with glances, and the joy they share carrying out their Dad Jim’s prophecy that ” you’ll always be better together than apart ” was evident. DBT drummer Brad Morgan stepped in on his kit when Cody strapped on the washboard, and Luther was so engaged that he sat on Cody’s kit and banged a complementary beat, a la Jaimoe and Butch Trucks with the Allmans. I’d loved to have seen Cody grab a guitar and trade some licks with Luther, and of course, Big Chew was missed. But a great Duo show  ended like a stopped carousel when they’d ” hit their mark” as the Opening Act and politely slipped offstage to ringing applause. Like the gentlemen they were raised to be, the humble Dickinsons could be seen pitching in with the roadies and the 930 Club crew to clear their gear and set up for the DBT. Cody bantered laughingly with the fans down front as he coiled cords and packed gear.

" More washboard!", the ladies cried, and Cody obliged!

” More washboard!”, the ladies cried, and Cody obliged!

Soon, the mikes were lined up, the axes stacked, and Cooley and Hood were marching onstage to roars as they launched into Patterson’s ” The Buford Stick “, followed quickly by Cooley’s ” Uncle Frank “. Many fans knew every lyric, every punctuated beat sturdily pounded by Morgan. The set was tilted toward Southern Things, with many selections from ” Southern Rock Opera ” and the early CDs, including 2003’s finally soon-to-be released “Alabama Ass Whuppin’ “.  Patterson revealed that the missing master tapes had recently been located and delivered by Rob Malone, and the long-bootlegged album will be released “on vinyl for y’all to enjoy while we’re workin’ on the new one”, according to Hood. The entire NYE show is available on the DBT Facebook page, and the set list looks like this:

01. The Buford Stick
02. Uncle Frank
03. The Company I Keep
04. Gravity’s Gone
05. The Three Great Alabama Icons >
06. The Southern Thing
07. 72 (This Highway’s Mean)
08. Steve McQueen
09. Marry Me
10. Road Cases
11. Get Downtown > Happy New Year
12. Don’t Be In Love Around Me
13. 3 Dimes Down
14. Margo and Harold
15. Love Like This
16. A World of Hurt > A Ghost To Most
17. Heathens
18. Birthday Boy
19. Hell No, I Ain’t Happy
20. Encore call
21. Zip City
22. Let There Be Rock
23. Shut Up and Get on the Plane
24. Buttholeville
25. People Who Died

Hood, Patton, and Cooley

Morgan, Hood, Patton, and Cooley

As they neared midnight at the close of  ” Get Downtown “, Hood counted down 2012 to the release of hundreds of balloons from the ceiling as he hollered, ” Happy New Year, motherfuckers!”, and with a twist on ” World of Hurt”, ” It’s fuckin’ great to be alive!”  The band plowed through the rest of the set, bowed out to chanting ” DBT, DBT, DBT “, and returned for the encore with Cooley’s huge crowd favorite, ” Zip City “. Patterson called and waved the Dickinsons onstage for ” Let There Be Rock “, and I saw the wall clock read 1:15 am. The METRO stationmaster’s admonition shook me: ” You better be back here by 1:40 “. Streets jammed with drunken revelers, I raced back to the station, now crowded like Tokyo rush hour, and gave a crisp salute to the Civil War Memorial’s most Django-worthy statue as I ran down the escalator to avoid missing the last train out. A taste of the Southern Thing for the City of Duality. I wonder if Django coulda filled in on bass with the Allstars?

——Your humble Dixie correspondent, Col. Nanker Phledge