On Saturday night, Patterson Hood, one of the Drive-By Truckers’ guitarists and singer-songwriters told the near capacity crowd at the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach that “…when you do what we do, every night is either Friday or Saturday night.” He had mistaken the concert date as a Friday, when in fact it was a Saturday night. He was easily forgiven of his mistake considering what the DBTs do is rock. Many a discussions among the alt-country and roots-rock fan base have spent countless hours debating what qualifies as alt-country and what is roots-rock, or just simply rock.
This was my second time to see the DBTs, and with enough bourbon I will gladly explain to you why I feel the Athens, Ga,-cum-Muscle Shoals, Ala. band is definitely a rock band, regardless of an expansive catalog of songs that hint and reflect a tinge of country music. This beer bottle tip to country music is obvious considering the band’s blood lineage in the South – co-founding members Hood and Mike Cooley (the other DBTs’ guitarist and singer-songwriter) are from north Alabama, Muscle Shoals and Tuscumbia respectively. These two Alabama towns are within spitting distance of one another. The two Alabama boys can’t disguise their accents or their shared Southern heritage. Their founding of DBTs in Athens adds to their country music connection, but when you form a band in 1996 in Athens it is going to have a fuller expansive sound with an obvious connection to rock that these two men grew up listening to, such as Molly Hatchet, The Clash, and The Replacements. Three bands that were mentioned during DBTs’ singing of “Let There Be Rock” on Saturday night.
I was there to see a band that not only rocks a good quality sound, but to see and hear a band that connected with me (in my own mind) because my formative music-listening years were lived right across the north Alabama state-line in southern Tennessee. Not only did I grow up listening to the same music as Hood and Cooley, but also I intimately knew the locations they spread throughout their songs. This band sings about the life I purposely escaped, yet fondly remember as a 43-year-old man.
The first time I saw the DBTs, about six years ago, it was in Washington, D.C. and Hood had the flu. This resulted in a DBT show that was primarily the best of Cooley’s songs and singing. Fortunately, for the crowd at HOB, Hood didn’t have the flu. Instead, the DBTs put on a first rate rock show that included a number of songs off the recently released album, “English Oceans.” Arguably, and again over a bottle of bourbon, I would happily explain why this latest collection of Hood’s and Cooley’s homegrown poetry is their best. On Saturday night, the House of Blues was given clean and crisp versions of “English Oceans” songs such as “Pauline Hawkins,” “Shit Shots Count,” “Made Up English Oceans,” and the final song of the night, “Grand Canyon.”
If anyone at HOB was disappointed in the DBTs musical skills maturation, then they were given a bit of the Dirty South DBTs sound with one of their favorite sing-a-longs of “Hell No I Ain’t Happy,” which the crowd knew perfectly. I knew I wasn’t disappointed when one of my favorite DBTs songs was played in mid-concert, “Gravity’s Gone” and yes it would take hours and a lot of bourbon for me to explain in an articulate manner why it is one of my favorites. A number of the band’s well-known and well-loved songs were included Saturday night, such as “Zip City,” “Sink Hole,” “Goode Fields’ Road,” and one of the final songs of the night, “Let There Be Rock.” Any male born in Alabama (or a state bordering it) immediately identifies with this song considering it being an ode to hell-raising music of their youth.
Initially, the HOB crowd during the opening act, Water Liars from Oxford, Miss., seemed sedated and subdued. What opening crowd isn’t, though? The hell-raising vibe settled in once DBTs took the stage, and by the time Hood gravely-throated the opening lines to “Where the Devil Don’t Stay,” - “My daddy played poker in the woods they say back in his younger days…” - the crowd was feeling the hell-raising at full steam. The crowd sang along with the song as full-throated as Hood. The DBTs gave a nod to the surprisingly large number of women in the audience with “Girls Who Smoke.” No left the House of Blues Saturday night disappointed.
As the DBTs left the stage (for the obligatory encore waiting period) at 11:45pm, the mixed crowd of hell-raising boys and girls who smoke were ready for the concert to peak. All night the show’s tempo had been building like a drummer’s solo – tight, rhythmic, and then to the expected crescendo (Hood’s “Let There Be Rock” and Cooley’s “Zip City”), and then ending on the expected smooth slowdown, “Grand Canyon.” We didn’t leave the House of Blues on Saturday night feeling cheated. We left feeling like we’d experienced something akin to our first rock show, but again it would take a bottle of bourbon and a few hours to provide my memories of seeing Blue Oyster Cult with Quiet Riot in Huntsville, Ala. in 1982. Fortunately, I didn’t get pulled over while riding along with a friend who was barely 16. The DBTs provided the crowd with a woven tapestry of poetry, working class poetry but poetry nonetheless, that was no one would consider (either on a Friday or Saturday night) it as anything but rock ‘n’ roll.