” 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.

The Righteous Shall Rock! The Reverend Billy C. Wirtz– The Mills House, Charleston, S.C. 2/9/13

Rev. Billy C. Wirtz

The start of Saturday night services: The Right Rev cranks up the keys.  Far stage right is  Tib Miller on the box.

Our Low Country correspondent, ” Col.” Nanker Phledge, gets the Good Word as Rev. Wirtz puts the fodder where the lambs can reach it!

” Mr. Phillips was the only man that Jerry Lee still would call ‘ Sir ‘ .” – Mike Cooley-            ” “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac”

There’s a scene in ” Great Balls of Fire ” where Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Studios who discovered Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins, is rhapsodizing over his other client Jerry Lee Lewis’ playing with ” a black left hand, and a white right hand”, seemingly drawing from the best of classical, pop, blues, and gospel to create his own inimitable sound,  which some were already calling ” rock and roll “. Regrettably, the Killer’s demeanor and demons kept him from fortune, but his fame lives on in the art form for which he, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry are rightly called Creators, and in the keyboard stylings of contemporaries like Cocoa Beach, Florida’s own Reverend Billy C. Wirtz. The Rev was at his righteous best on Saturday night, knocking out the lucky attendees of a private party in the Robert E. Lee Room of Charleston, S.C.’s lovely Mills House hotel, where a step outside onto the wrought-iron balcony places you in the footsteps of General Lee as he gave his Secession Speech to a cheering throng in the run-up to the Civil War.

Mills House

The Mills House, amazingly still standing on Sunday morning!

The revelry was triggered by the 60th birthday of trial lawyer/ Nassau County, FL socialite    ( now there’s an oxymoron)/ bon vivant Teri Sopp, who commissioned the Rev to save any souls left standing after a Massive Night on the streets of Chucktown.

The Rev bangs out ” Happy Birthday ” for the Guest of Honor!
( Nanker can be seen Stage Left, searching for The Lost Tanqueray – Ed. )

Drawing upon the legacies of the Killer, Brother Ray, and Fats, as well as his own hilarious repertoire of modern-day chronicles of South Florida living– when he lead the crowd in a chorus of ” drive, Granny, drive ” while peering through an imagined steering wheel, we could all relate– Billy C. kept the dance floor jumpin’ and sides bustin’ with his social commentary, crowd engagement, and deft handiwork on the keys. Blazing through  signature tunes  ” What I Used To Do  All Night Takes Me All Day to Do “, ” Stairway to Freebird”, and ” Granny’s At the Wheel “, as well as Jerry Lee’s ” Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On “, Billy gently poked fun at conservatives, religion, pop culture, and commercialism ( his ” Waffle House Fire” is a crowd pleaser) with Parkinsonian gesticulation and  comic facial expressions that punctuated the lyrics. Victor Borge meets Mojo Nixon!

As the charming Aiken, S.C. native wound up his set to rousing applause, I drifted out to the balcony and stood in General Lee’s steps, gazing down Meeting Street toward St. Martin’s, wishing Billy C. were in the pulpit the next morning spreading his irreverent gospel.

” Four generations/ whole lot has changed/Robert E. Lee/ Martin Luther King/Proud of the glory/stare down the shame/ duality of the Southern Thing” — Patterson Hood

Charleston's Meeting Street

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

After the Scene Dies: Remembering the 400 Bar

(“Somali Children’s Center is Likely to Replace 400 Bar” Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 29, 2012)

If you weren’t aware of its place in Twin Cities musical history, you would not likely give a second glance at the nondescript 2-story red and black building on the SW corner of Cedar & Riverside in Minneapolis’ West Bank neighborhood. Walking through the side entrance (the front door was walled off long ago) was an equally underwhelming experience, revealing a long bar along the wall by the entryway, a few shabby booths and ripped up stools with uneven legs, and red, red walls throughout. But, oh, if these walls could talk, what a story they’d tell!

The news that the Sullivan brothers, Tom and Bill, were calling it quits after 17 years of running the 400 Bar was greeted with a mix of emotions by the Twin Cities’ music community: dismay at the loss of another live music venue; nostalgic reminiscing over memorable past shows; and acknowledgement that the sale of the bar is simply further evidence of the changing character of the neighborhood, as the largest Somali community outside of Somalia becomes more settled in its new surroundings. For this writer, it’s an opportunity to reflect upon the bar’s role in shaping one man’s musical tastes.

Before the Sullivans took over, the 400 Bar was part of a network of bars and clubs that made the Cedar-Riverside area a magnet for folks looking for the heart of a Saturday night. Drawing initially on the convenient patronage of students from the nearby University of Minnesota and Augsburg College, the West Bank became a destination point for young people throughout the metropolitan area, as well as out-of-towners who got the word that The Scene was here. Folk and blues artists like Spider John Koerner, Dave “Snaker” Ray and Tony Glover; Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson; Dakota Dave Hull and Sean Blackburn kept things lively at The Coffeehouse Extempore. Willie Murphy and The Bumblebees, The West Bank Trackers, Doug Maynard et al. were regulars at places like the Triangle Bar, the Viking Bar, and the Seven Corners Saloon. Pioneering local reggae/calypso stalwarts Shangoya put on many a memorable show upstairs at the old Dania Hall. Sadly, most of those venues no longer exist, falling victim to changing times, tastes, demographics and economics. (The whole scene is chronicled much better than space permits here, in Cyn Collins’ excellent 2006 book, “West Bank Boogie.”)

The 400 Bar certainly had a piece of that West Bank action. Before the bar doubled in size, to its current dimensions, the cramped stage was located right up front, behind the big window overlooking Cedar Avenue that drew in passersby wondering “Who’s playing?” Willie and the Bees could barely squeeze their 6 or 7 members onto the stage. Koerner, Ray & Glover played there often, individually or in various combinations. The West Bank was a supportive environment for Twin Cities musicians in the 70’s and 80’s and the 400 Bar played a vital role in nurturing the creative local talent base.

The character of the bar began changing when the Sullivans took over approximately in 1995. They expanded the bar into the space next door and moved the stage away from the front window and into the new space. Bill Sullivan had been the tour manager for popular local bands Soul Asylum and The Replacements, as they rose to national prominence. He and his brother, Tom, widened their search for talent and began booking lesser known but up and coming bands and artists. Bands that went on to national prominence, such as Arcade Fire, Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst), Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, The Heartless Bastards, Elvis Perkins and Justin Townes Earle, all made their Twin Cities debuts at the 400. The Missus and I recall young Mr. Earle OPENING for The Felice Brothers at the bar – roles that would certainly be reversed today.

We were privileged to see many a fine show at the 400. Patterson Hood of the Drive By Truckers made his only two solo Twin Cities appearances there (these were true solo shows, unlike his recent appearance with The Downtown Rumblers, reviewed earlier on this site). Split Lip Rayfield chose the 400 for their Minneapolis return engagement following the death of founding member Kirk Rundstrom. The first of several times we saw Marah there ranks as one of the best bar shows ever, as we marveled at Serge Bielanko duck-walking atop the half wall separating the front and back bar area, all the while blowing a furious harp solo. The Heartless Bastards, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, The Baseball Project, Southern Culture on the Skids, James McMurtry, The Bottle Rockets, The Deadstring Brothers, Centro-Matic – we can thank the 400 Bar for giving us our first look at these bands, among many, many others. And, we never tired of seeing iconic local musicians Willie Murphy, Spider John, or Tony Glover perform there.

Although no longer as densely packed with music venues as it was in its heyday, the West Bank remains well-populated with places to see live music. The Nomad World Pub, Triple Rock Social Club, Acadia Cafe, Red Sea, and Palmer’s Bar all cater to various musical genres. The Cedar Cultural Center books a wide variety of folk, rock, blues and world music acts, and at the Southern terminus of the West Bank, past the I-94 underpass, Whiskey Junction, The Joint and the venerable Cabooze all do brisk business every weekend. Still, it will be interesting to see who picks up the slack left behind by the 400’s closing. The challenge, in this Twitter/Facebook/Myspace age will be sifting through the plethora of information out there, to cull out the artists deserving of wider exposure. At this, the 400 Bar excelled, and for this, it will be missed.

Patterson Hood & The Downtown Rumblers, Fine Line Music Cafe, Minneapolis, MN 9/24/12

The esteemed Mr. Hood at the Fine Line

“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!