After avidly following the Drive-By Truckers through several great albums and something like seven concerts, I fell a bit out of touch with the group over the past few years. I barely paid attention to the Southern rock group’s 2010 album The Big To-Do, and I hadn’t seen them live since they co-headlined with the Hold Steady back in 2008. (Photos.)
So Saturday night’s concert at the Vic felt like getting reacquainted with some old friends. The latest album by the DBTs, Go-Go Boots, is a strong one, a whole new batch of memorable songs by the group’s two main singer-songwriter-guitarists, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, with subtle melodic hooks and characters worthy of good fiction. It’s clear now that the departure of the band’s other voice, Jason Isbell, a few years ago hasn’t slowed down this crew one bit.
The prolific band has a lot of material to choose from, and Saturday night’s show leaned heavily on the recent songs, at least during its first half. The band even brought out some burlesque dancers to illustrate the song “Go-Go Boots.” As always, Hood grinned a lot as he sang or stomped around with his guitar, looking like he was having the time of his life. He’s one of those musicians who conveys a honest exuberance in every performance. Cooley’s more laconic, not as much of a showman, and there’s a laid-back, conversational style to his vocals. It’s the juxtaposition of those voices that makes the DBTs such a special outfit. Bassist Shonna Tucker sings a few songs, too, and she sounded more confident than she did on her original contributions, adding a nice female counterpoint to the guys. Filled out by Brad Morgan, John Neff and Jay Gonzalez, the Drive-By Truckers are a tight group that knows how to play buzz-saw guitar riffs as well as song with more of a soulful swing.
They went deeper into their catalog during the second half of the nearly 2 1/2-hour show, playing older songs such as “Shut Up and Get On the Plane,” “Let There Be Rock,” “Hell No I Ain’t Happy,” “72 (This Highway’s Mean)” and “The Living Bubba.” In the encore, Kelly Hogan came out and sang lead vocals on a smooth cover of the Staple Singers/Curtis Mayfield song, “Let’s Do It Again.” The evening ended with another track from the classic double-album Southern Rock Opera, “Angels and Fuselage,” with Hood singing the pleading chorus: “I’m scared shitless…” The band left the stage one by one, until drummer Brad Morgan was the only one left. The backdrop was a couple of banners designed to look like stained-glass windows containing the ominous bird-like monster that’s become the band’s symbol. Morgan’s drum kit had an extra bass drum sitting next to him, decorated with the words “Go-Go Boots” in the shape of a cross, and making the stage appear like some dark chapel of Southern rock. Morgan didn’t use that bass drum much during the show, but in the final seconds, he reached over toward it with his mallet and thumped out the last, dramatic beats of the night.