Last Wednesday night, March 15th, the average age of a Canopy Club audience member shot up to about 47, and it filled up with mostly men who were there to take in the personal and political musical stylings of alt-country act Drive-By Truckers. Patterson Hood and bandmates performed to a slightly subdued but appreciative crowd, and put their rock music prowess on display, playing their tunes with a little more fuzz and a little more rock than they come out sounding on their albums.
Opening act Margo Cilker took the stage dressed in black denim and a charcoal t-shirt. Accompanied by her guitarist, Cilker’s first song, “The River,” had a distinct country twang and was reminiscent of Patsy Cline. While her voice was impressive and her guitarist’s picking skills were excellent, the music itself wasn’t quite bold enough to stand out.
Cilker’s second song showcased her guitarist’s impressive soloing skills and the singer’s country-style voice. Cilker’s song, “Kevin Johnson,” had a Bob Dylan-esque feel, with spiritual references in the lyrics and harmonica playing. Her songs were filled with lyrical references to the Columbia River, which she grew up near.
Overall, Cilker’s performance was good, but not groundbreaking. Her country twang, talented guitar playing, and heartfelt lyrics were appreciated by the audience, but her melodies and overall sound were unoriginal. While Cilker has the potential to stand out in the crowded singer-songwriter universe, she needs to bring a more unique sound to the table.
The Drive-By Truckers’ set filled with great music, heartfelt moments, and a whole lot of rock and roll. The band kicked off the show with “Maria’s Awful Disclosure,” a song that featured big guitars right out of the gate. Jay Gonzalez made his guitar sound like a fiddle, injecting a little country-music vibe into the first song. Bass player, Bobby Matt Patton, had a smile on his face from ear to ear as they took the stage, and it didn’t leave for the rest of the night. Guitarist/Singer Patterson Hood seemed happy that he got to play more personal music from their new album Welcome to Club XIII.
The second song was the first track off the new album called “The Driver.” Hood seemed like he was chanting the lyrics at times. Cooley’s guitar solo emitted a sad lonely wail, and during certain parts Hood headbanged to the rhythm of his own guitar. “The Driver” reminded me of the song “The Rapture” by Blondie.
The band’s interaction with each other was something refreshing to see. During “Every Single Storied Flameout,” as Cooley and Hood played dual guitar parts during the song, they laughed and looked at each other like brothers goofing around and having fun. While they are at the beginning of this long tour, they seem genuinely pleased to be back out on the road and to be playing music together again.
“Putting People on the Moon” was a very Johnny Cash-sounding song. This song featured the lyrics “every week down at the Ford plant. But now they’re shutting down. Goddamn Reagan in the White House and nobody gives a damn.” After this lyric, Patterson flipped the bird to the audience, letting them know the negative impact he thought the Reagan administration had on this country. I noticed several of the younger fans in the audience really getting into this tune.
“Women without Whiskey” starts out with “I made it through this year, I think I’m gonna put this bottle down, I guess as time goes on I’m gonna miss it less than I do now.” This sentiment reminded me of their former bandmate, Jason Isbell, who was dealing with his own issues involving alcohol when he left the band in 2007. The song had a distinct Tom Petty riff, and Hood had the guitar solo. It was the first song they played with a keyboard and Gonzalez played the keys for the song.
Before the next song, Hood came up to the mic and said, “We’re here in Champaign, Illinois, where Hal 9000 was built.” The crowd collectively went “Huh?” but a few realized he was talking about Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. He reminisced about going to see it as a kid with his family. His mom hated it, but his dad took a tab of acid and absolutely loved it.
As the night went on, the Drive-By Truckers continued to play songs from their new album, Welcome to Club XIII, as well as some classic tracks from their extensive discography. One highlight was “Slow Ride Argument,” a song that showcases the band’s ability to write catchy, sing-along choruses.
Another standout moment was during “A Ghost to Most,” a song that features a powerful guitar riff and lyrics that deal with the struggles of addiction. As Hood sang “I keep a close eye on my friends / and my friends on me,” the audience seemed to empathize with the sentiment.
Throughout the night, the band’s musicianship was on full display, with Cooley, Hood, and Gonzalez each taking turns on lead guitar and keyboard. The rhythm section, consisting of Patton on bass and Morgan on drums, kept the songs moving along at a steady pace. It was clear from the energy on stage and the interactions between band members that the Drive-By Truckers are still passionate about making music and performing live. Despite the challenges of being on the road for long stretches of time, they seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company and the opportunity to connect with their fans through their music.