Drive-By Truckers | Roundhouse | 3 March 2017
“R E S I S T” chants Patterson Hood as the band roar through ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ behind him. Taking aim at the politics of division and hate, those six letters are the culmination of a thrilling set that, like the Neil Young finale, combines incisive political commentary with gritty Southern rock.
Across its 140 minutes, Hood and Drive-By Truckers’ other songwriter-singer-guitarist, Mike Cooley, take turns to reflect and rage, their words reinforced by screaming Gibson SGs, swirling organs, honky tonk piano, no-nonsense drumming, and the occasional strummed acoustic guitar.
Drawing from potent new album ‘American Band’, which focuses on their divided homeland, they tackle mass shootings (the heartbreaking ‘Guns of Umpqua’); the rise of the National Rifle Association (searing ‘Ramon Casiano’); and racial violence inflicted by police (the plaintive ‘What It Means’ which, in Hood’s own words, “asks a whole bunch of fucking questions”). Divisive, hurtful, lingering Southern traditions are taken to task in the vicious ‘Surrender Under Protest’ and ‘Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn’, while the musicians’ complicated relationship with their roots comes to the fore on storytelling masterclass ‘Ever South’.
Admittedly not always as pointed, such political and social sentiments run through much of the Truckers’ back catalogue. And, although they recur tonight in songs like the jagged ‘Where The Devil Don’t Stay’ and tumultuous slice-of-life narrative ‘Righteous Path’, the overall effect is one of invigoration, not despair. Hood and Cooley have been doing this together for long enough (over 30 years) to know, for example, that the musical maelstrom of ‘Lookout Mountain’ must be balanced by the bright, big hooks of ‘Women Without Whiskey’ – and that you’ve got to send them home with smiles on their faces.
So joyous tribute to music ‘Let There Be Rock’, jangling open road anthem ‘Zip City’, and raucous singalong ‘Hell No, I Ain’t Happy’ help the increasingly pumped up Roundhouse audience forget about the shitstorm happening in the world outside. In lesser hands, ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ could have let it creep back in, but tonight it’s a battle cry for the resistance.