Friday, April 9th, 2010
The Big To-Do
Drive-By Truckers and Langhorne Slim at Lee’s Palace in Toronto
Frank YangThe word around The Big To-Do – the latest album from Drive-By Truckers – is that it’s the band’s best since their generally-acknowledged high-water mark, Southern Rock Opera. I have trouble subscribing to this because in my mind, that double-album opus is head, shoulders and torso above anything else the band has done not just because it kicks ass, but because of the ambition, concept and scope behind it, and the Truckers have had the good sense to not even try to top it on its terms. It simply stands alone.
But it is true that The Big To-Do deserves to be celebrated as the Truckers’ most solid effort in a while. It achieves that distinction largely by being the most up and consistently rocking of their records in recent memory, but particularly when compared to 2008’s Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. That record was the sound of the band finding its feet after the departure of one third of their songwriters in Jason Isbell, and having found steady footing (and another guitarist in John Neff and a capable singer/songwriter in bassist Shonna Tucker), The Big To-Do has them again moving forward, pedal to the metal.
That trajectory brought the band to Toronto for the better part of this week for two nights at Lee’s Palace (as well as an in-store performance). My general philosophy towards multi-night stands is that given the choices, the closing show is the one to hit and so it was that I piled into the hot and sweaty room with hundreds of other rowdy Truckers fans – is there any other kind? – this past Wednesday night. Pennsylvania’s Langhorne Slim was tapped to open both nights and was exceptional in the warm-up role, leading his band through a set of energetic country-blues that offered both solid tunes and exceptional showmanship and striking the right balance between acting out and staying cool.
Just to get it out of the way, there is no such thing as a bad Drive-By Trucker show. Road warriors and rock monsters both, I think it’s physically impossible for them to not give their all every time they set foot on a stage. That said, not all evenings are equal and as good as this show was, it didn’t quite measure up to the last couple times I’d seen them – their Rock’N’Roll Means Well tour with The Hold Steady in November 2008 made for a uniquely epic double bill, but it was their October 2006 show at the Phoenix that set the standard for what a Truckers show should be, clocking in at two and a half hours of reckless abandon and with Isbell still in the band.
This time out they leaned even heavier on the new material than I’d expected with 11 of The Big To-Do‘s 14 tracks showcased and the Isbell era – which includes most of my favourite Truckers tunes – completely ignored save for two numbers from Decoration Day. I’d also go so far as to say that they didn’t quite get up to the same musical velocity that I’d seen them achieve before, instead settling into a slightly lower cruising altitude than expected for the two-plus hours.
Even so, as I said earlier, there’s no such thing as a bad Truckers show and this wasn’t anything like a bad Truckers show. I’d never expected to see them in such cozy quarters again, and that extra degree of intimacy ensured that regardless of anything else, it would be a memorable show. The two-night engagement allowed the band to make themselves at home a little bit more than they normally would, with the stage decked out in their signature Wes Freed artwork including a giant marching band bass drum with “Drive-By Truckers” emblazoned across it behind Brad Morgan’s drum kit. There was plenty of sweat and guitar solos, and both Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley were in fine voice throughout, though only half of Tucker’s leads sounded great; “Home Field Advantage” didn’t work out too well thanks to either forgotten lyrics, a poor mix or some combination thereof. They capped things off with a raging cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World”, being maybe the only band today who can still play that song and elicit fist pumps rather than eye rolls. No, it wasn’t the longest or most intense Truckers show I’d ever seen, but it was still a hell of a thing. Let there be rock.
Photos: Drive-By Truckers, Langhorne Slim @ Lee’s Palace – April 7, 2010
MP3: Drive-By Truckers – “This Fucking Job”
MP3: Drive-By Truckers – “Birthday Boy”
MP3: Drive-By Truckers – “Zip City”
MP3: Langhorne Slim – “I Love You But Goodbye”
Video: Drive-By Truckers – “Never Gonna Change”
Video: Langhorne Slim – “Be Set Free”
Video: Langhorne Slim – “Restless”
Video: Langhorne Slim – “In The Midnight”
Video: Langhorne Slim – “Rebel Side Of Heaven”
MySpace: Drive-By Truckers
MySpace: Langhorne Slim
Philadelphia Weekly interviews Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, in town on Sunday for a
4PM 3PM in-store at Sunrise records and a show at the Phoenix later that evening. Note that there are no openers so BRMC go on at 8PM sharp.