Drive-By Truckers - Manchester Academy 2 - 01.04.06

Here’s a newsflash for you, while many people were mesmerised by the cloudy smoke and mirrors effect of Guns N’ Roses’ traditionalist woe releasing mayhem, they were not, contrary to popular belief, the only ones with the ability to set guitars free and ride their lyrics rodeo style on their back. While Slash was fumbling with Es and G-strings, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley were forming a collaboration that would metamorphose into the 5 strong South USA troupe of Drive-By Truckers. They were earnestly compiling and even lamenting a riff-roaring blueprint of thrusting complaint rock with dusty and contemplative interludes. They have continuously mixed together the impact of Whitesnake, Motorhead, Neil Young, Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon to pump out a blend of gritty, bemused and riff heavy music that narrated their hard struggle with life’s ambivalence.

The three guitarists/songwriters and vocalists Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Alabama’s answer to Jimi Hendrix of late entrant to the crew, Jason Isbell flanked each other. The front trio compactly belted out bolting riff after bolting riff to support the masculine howl of Patterson and the throaty rock cries of Isbell, before throwing in a slower and dusky country fuelled base for Cooley’s Johnny Cash vocal styling. Of their back catalogue, ‘Decoration Day’ has always stood out for its cutting simplicity. ‘Heathens’ is a welcomed inclusion from this offering, featuring the hypnotic chord progression of Patterson’s guitar mastery.

With heads bobbing up and down in waves during this adventuring set, you can tell that the crowd are grateful for the chance to stand in appreciation and enjoy the tough lyrical bite of ‘Cottonseeds’. This is delivered with bite by Cooley;

“I spent a few years on vacation, sanctioned by the state I mentioned
But a man like me don't do no time too hard to come back from
The meanest of the mean, I see you lock away and toss the key
But they're all just loud mouth punks to me; I've scraped meaner off my shoe.”
One of the more frenetic rock-outs of the evening was the glimpse into the new material from forthcoming album ‘Blessing Is A Curse’, by way of ‘Wednesday’ that if done by a group of posh Americans wearing eyeliner, it would be hailed as the post-rock party piece of the decade. As the set careers towards curfew time we are reminded of the sheer rhythmically snappy nature of Drive-By Truckers, with a note perfect rendition of ‘Let There Be Rock’. This number is a run through of how Rock N’ Roll saved Patterson from going off the rails in his High School years and this number alone, you could tell, is a crutch for many in attendance tonight to guide them through the dark days.

Of course, one of the two encores has to include the classic ’18 Wheels of Love’, featuring repetition of the immortal line;

“Mama ran off with a trucker.”

This ebb and flow of mundane life in a nutshell prances playfully through all of the genres covered by the band. The wallowing narrative starts off from a slow weeping guitar led base, and then chords open out to pull off a tension release rock opera, passing through folk and even indie territory on the way. The Drive-By Truckers pit stop in Manchester has unfolded into a tasty treat of what rock, both past and present should mean. That is heartfelt passion and guitar liberation that shakes off the shackles of oppression.

David Adair

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