” 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

 

 

” Duality of the Southern Thing “- MUSCLE SHOALS documentary

” MUSCLE SHOALS ” directed by Greg ” Freddy ” Camalier

muscle shoals” Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers, and they’ve been known to pick a song or two…” — Ronnie Van Zant/ Ed King/ Gary Rossington; Lynyrd Skynyrd- ” Sweet Home Alabama”

The Swampers at Muscle Shoals Sound

The Swampers at Muscle Shoals Sound

Just south of the Alabama/Tennessee border, about 26 miles from Mike Cooley’s  ” Zip  City “, runs a stretch of the Tennessee River where the rocks seem to make the waters sing. Native Americans believed that a woman sang to them from beneath the waves. When extraordinarily rendered to Muscogee, Oklahoma, many grieved for the loss of the songs in the water, and at least one woman trudged by foot for five years to return to Muscle Shoals.

Years later, world-class musicians would heed that siren song and make their pilgramage  to this tiny corner of North Alabama ” to record that sweet soul music, that Muscle Shoals sound ” ( Patterson Hood, DBT: ” Ronnie and Neil” ) at Rick Hall’s FAME studio, and later at Muscle Shoals Sound with Swamper/Producer/guitarist Jimmy Johnson and his cohorts bassist David Hood and drummer Roger Hawkins.

Rick Hall and Clarence Carter at FAME studios

Rick Hall and Clarence Carter at FAME studios

The amazing story of how these country white boys partnered with artists of all genres- from Clarence Carter to the Rolling Stones– to make great music is the heart of the film, but it is the personal grief and glory revealed in interviews ( brilliantly edited to answers only ) that make the story so compelling. We hear driven, hard-boiled Rick Hall recounting his brother’s horrific farmyard death, his mother’s abandonment, and his father’s clawing the soil with his nails as he was crushed under his tractor. We hear Jimmy Johnson reveal that while recording the first demo of ” Free Bird ” for then-unknown Lynyrd Skynyrd, they returned from lunch to hear the ethereal piano solo now memorialized in the song being played by then-roadie Billy Powell, who had feared that the band wouldn’t like the fact that he was a classically trained pianist. Jimmy Johnson tells of ” the beginning of Southern Rock “, when Duane Allman sold Wilson Pickett on the crazy notion of covering the Beatles’ ” Hey Jude “, and Rick Hall candidly admits completely whiffing on Duane’s prediction of the popularity of the genre. And brother Gregg tells of dropping off a bottle of Coricidin and a copy of Taj Mahal’s first LP at ailing Duane’s house, and having Duane call him hours later, loudly playing ” Statesboro Blues ” with the emptied Coricidin bottle as a slide.

Gregg Allman in MUSCLE SHOALS

Gregg Allman in MUSCLE SHOALS

Surely, the presence of willing interviewees Mick, Keith, Winwood, Aretha, and Bono will draw many to this fine film, but it is the personal vignettes, and the attempt to answer why  so much great music came out of this backwater town, that will burn the memory of this film into our cranial hard drives. Why then? Why there?  Great soul artists like Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, and Percy Sledge testify to the color-blind harmony in Muscle Shoals, even while Alabama Governor George Wallace was standing in the doorways of schools to keep out black children.This contradiction, so powerful that record companies would call Rick Hall to get ” that soul band of black guys ” from his studio , was part of what David Hood’s son Patterson would later call the ” duality of the Southern Thing “, wherein barely schooled poor white country boys would back up soul, R and B, and even reggae artists like Jimmy Cliff, by becoming that artist’s band for the time of the session. In one of the film’s many poignant moments, Clarence Carter notes that perhaps the success of blacks and whites working side by side  in Muscle Shoals was demonstrative evidence to the public that peaceful coexistence was not only possible, but a path to great art.

Roger Hawkins in MUSCLE SHOALS

Roger Hawkins in MUSCLE SHOALS

” Meanwhile in North Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd comes to town to record with Jimmy Johnson, that Muscle Shoals Sound, and they met some real fine people, not no racist piece of shit, and they wrote a song about it, and that song became a hit..”– Patterson Hood, DBT: ” Ronnie and Neil “

With a tip of the hat to SNL’s Leonard Pinth-Garnell ( Dan Akroyd), your humble correspondent, Nanker Phledge.