Patterson Hood looked to the side of the stage and gave the full-face grin of a boy who had just gotten away with something. The Drive-By Truckers had just finished their strongest song of the night thus far, “Carl Perkins Cadillac”, and were ready to launch into another, their shit-kicking rendition of Warren Zevon’s “Play it All Night Long”, but that one look seemed to define the feeling of the night better than anything else. The Truckers, and openers Lucero, had the air of bands truly happy to be at the 9:30 Club. Hood slipped in a line about it in Zevon’s satire of Southern rock, “Play It All Night Long”. “I’ve been to Washington, motherfuckin’ D.C. and like it–enough to play three straight nights and into the new year!” The crowd, many clad in plaid shirts and trucker hats, applauded.
Though DBT played a solid show, it felt as though they were holding back in its beginnings, a reasonable thought given the fact that they still had two nights to headline in their run at the 9:30 Club. Unfortunately the crowd didn’t always match the band’s enthusiasm, even lacking the timing (or perhaps sobriety) to coordinate a cohesive encore chant. Perhaps they were still recovering from Christmas celebration and travel. After some onstage goading and leadership from a roadie, those who remained in the crowd (probably two-thirds of the original audience) got its act together to get DBT back out on stage for an extended encore set that picked up most of the intensity they’d brought onstage towards the original set’s end.
The encore featured a guest appearance by an older, rotund gentleman in a leather jacket who took over guitar duties for Hood. Hood introduced him along the lines of “[inaudible], it’s his birthday,” and took an extended swig of Jack Daniels before passing it to his friend. The band began their set the same way, and periodically sought inspiration from the Lynchburg, TN native–fitting for a band that hails from the northern part of Alabama, a part of the state that blends together with the southern section of central Tennessee to form its own small cultural region at the tail end of Appalachia. DBT ended the encore with an extended bipolar cover of “People Who Have Died” by Jim Carroll. Hood let his inner punk out, leaning into the crowd from the stage and brandishing his mic stand in the air like a drawn sword.
With a two-man brass section, two electric guitars, bass, steel guitar, keys, drums, and at least four members that could have doubled as actual truckers by my estimation, Lucero brought an even bigger sound than the headliners. The haggard, partially blown out voice of singer Ben Nichols accentuated the Southern gothic themes of their songs sin, guilt, forgiveness–sometimes all in the same one. In a strange way the set resembled a homecoming for the Memphians, as they interacted with fans throughout the show, engaging in dialogue with and taking song requests from the first few rows of fans. “Man this is one of our favorite clubs in America,” said Nichols.
Their presence complemented DBT well, as Lucero’s sound leaned more towards alt-country with some room for the same Skynyrd-esque epic rock on songs like “Here at the Starlite”. Lucero also showed an affinity towards punk, covering Jawbreaker’s “Kiss the Bottle” with a Southern drawl. Both bands have lyrics you could imagine coming from a short story as well; hell, many of Hood’s songs are so literary they could double as novellas, as exemplified by “Tornadoes” and “Used to Be a Cop”.
Ultimately though the night was about bringing a certain type of storytelling, a distinctly Southern one, into a club and area that don’t associate with that type of thing often. Both bands looked as though they enjoyed it too, even when they went to their most emotional places, occasionally giving the look of moonshiners who had just snuck their best stuff into a dry county.