Drive-By Truckers (DVD)

The Dirty South Live at the 40 Watt

Music Reviews Drive-by Truckers
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Drive-By Truckers (DVD)

Sweat-soaked live document from redneck rockers proves way Pabst due

You don’t have to hail from the South to be seduced by the Drive-By Truckers, though it doesn’t hurt. After all, this Alabama-bred band of brothers wears its Dixie-fried heritage like a badge of honor (or, more appropriately, a Purple Heart) that’s as unavoidable as the upside-the-head-whacking piece of hardwood referenced in lumbering, swaggering tune “The Buford Stick.” With its lawman-as-villain/outlaw-as-hero perspective, it’s prototypical Drive-By Truckers—one of the many songs from the band’s latest studio recording, The Dirty South, featured on this two-hour DVD culled from an August 2004 two-night stand at the 40 Watt club in the group’s surrogate hometown of Athens, Ga.

Actually, it’s not just lawmen, but virtually all authority figures who are viewed with a combination of fear and loathing in numerous DBT songs—in particular, those penned by Patterson Hood (the son of famed Muscle Shoals session bassist David Hood) who formed the band back in the mid ’90s with fellow guitarist/songwriter Mike Cooley. And whether it’s attacking greedy bankers in the bitter “Sinkhole” or decrying governmental priorities in the workingman’s blues “Puttin’ People On The Moon,” Hood’s compositions ripple with a combustibility articulated most strongly in “The Southern Thing,” the don’t-tread-on-me centerpiece of the group’s ambitious 2001 concept opus, Southern Rock Opera, that is likewise this DVD’s showstopper.

Were Hood the band’s only songwriter, all this attention to matters of pride and prejudice might overload listeners, but the strong presence of co-founder Cooley acts as a vital counterbalance. His Dirty South songs performed here, such as the race car themed-“Daddy’s Cup” and the Sun-dried “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” deal more with everyday life than the Big Picture— between them and the introspective contributions of DBT's third writer, chief lead guitarist Jason Isbell (represented in particular on this show by a brooding, intense version of “Decoration Day”), both the group’s subject matter and approach are considerably wider than the Redneck Underground-ed image they’ve acquired over the years.

With so much of this image also caught up in the Truckers’ reputation as a formidable concert band, this basically straightforward documentation of their live act (outside of a bit of backstage patter, it’s wall-to-wall performance footage) should be a welcome souvenir for longtime fans. It may also serve as a fitting introduction for those curious about what happened to the Southern rock tradition after it was impacted by both the punk and grunge movements: you can hear vestiges of the former on the Ramones-ish chord changes of “Careless,” and of the latter on the bristling “Lookout Mountain.” Ultimately, though, the Drive-By Truckers’ music, in all its rough-hewn, ragged glory, is about one basic value—honesty. And you can certainly appreciate that regardless of where you come from.

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