November 17, 2011

Truckin’ into The State Theatre

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Advertised as “the best double bill of the fall” by The State Theatre, the Drive-By Truckers performed with the Felice Brothers Wednesday night to an audience of bearded boozers and dedicated bros. On a night full of working-class Southern rock, the Drive-By Truckers put on a sharp and riveting show that far outshined their openers.

Bred in upstate New York but formed in Brooklyn, The Felice Brothers were so close to being good. The band inhabits the increasingly popular belt between indie and country. It’s a genre that requires technical skill and soulful nostalgia, both of which they convey in their studio recordings. Unfortunately, it was the latter that they lacked in concert. During their twelve-song set, the Brothers seemed exhausted. James Felice’s Dylan-esque vocals and the band’s impressive musicality couldn’t carry their lifeless set. Even the layout of the stage foretold the band’s failings; cramped into a small space in front of DBT’s equipment, the Felice Brothers looked and sounded awkward. The highlights of their set — a brilliant and hilarious “Whiskey in My Whiskey” and an achingly earnest “Take This Bread” — were the heartfelt few songs that really captivated the crowd.

Luckily, the Drive-By Truckers soon followed. In today’s musical world, DBT do not shy away from touring. Frontman Patterson Hood at one point claimed that his down-home brooders have been on tour since 1998. After Wednesday’s superb set of blue-collar love, loss and drinking, you can see why: They’re damn good at it. Opening with “Used To Be A Cop,” a dark ballad off February’s Go-Go Boots, DBT maintained high levels of energy and vigor without once faltering in technical skill.

For the rest of their two-hour set, the band jumped from album to album, performing older songs with just as much enthusiasm as they demonstrated during their newer songs. In fact, some of their best tracks were from older albums, including their rowdy interpretation of AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock” and “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy,” a powerful, bluesy tune from their 2003 album Decoration Day. Whether the Truckers were furiously raging or tenderly mourning in their bleaker songs, they are always a band whose success rests in tales of proletarian strife. Even after thirteen years of near-constant touring, Hood can still confess, “one night when I was seventeen, I drank a fifth of vodka on an empty stomach” without the lyrics sounding the slightest bit tired.

After forming in Athens, Georgia in 1996, the Drive-By Truckers became one of the first bands to use the Internet as a promotional tool. This, and their near-constant touring, is what first helped them attract a base of dedicated fans. However, it was not until the 2001 release of double album Southern Rock Opera — a concept album that intertwines the story of a fictional band with the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd — that DBT achieved commercial success. Since then, the Truckers have been remarkably productive, putting out six studio albums in the past eight years. Their most recent release, Go-Go Boots, was yet another solid collection of beer-slamming country-rock anthems.

And they don’t seem to keen on stopping. After a fulfilling, sixteen-song set, the Truckers still returned for an encore of six — yes, six — songs, to the delight of the dance-happy dudes in the front. By the end of their epic set, the fans were near-euphoric. When the band at last closed with a sincere and gorgeous “Mercy Buckets,” the mediocrity of the Felice Brothers was utterly forgotten. So, while the openers may not have had the vigor to support their music, the headliners were a storm of musical talent and Southern bluesy soul that will not be soon forgotten.

Original Author: Gina Cargas