DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS HeATHENS HOMECOMING, 40 WATT CLUB (ATHENS, GA), SATURDAY FEBRUARY 18, 2017
The Drive-By Truckers were supposed to be taking a victory lap. When tickets went on sale for DBT’s annual three-night HeAthens Homecoming stand at the legendary 40 Watt Club in Athens, it was October of 2016 and Hillary Clinton looked to be cruising to the White House. The Truckers were cruising, too…riding high on the robust chart position and glowing reviews of their new album, “American Band.” The record’s most controversial track, “What It Means,” an unflinching take on what too often happens when young African-American men end up on the business end of a police nightstick or gun, was released in advance and became the song that launched a thousand Facebook “un-Likes.” Although the band has always been outspokenly and unapologetically liberal, DBT went all-in with the release of “American Band.” They played the Democratic National Convention, they appeared on MSNBC’s political coverage, and in interviews, the band’s two singer-songwriters, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, suggested that if their liberal worldview was a dealbreaker for some fans, then right now was probably a pretty good jumping-off point for them.
Then Election Day happened. Naturally, those Facebook “un-Likers” somehow found their way back to gloat and taunt the band. The fan club message boards erupted with flame wars. And loyal DBT fans, the ones who stayed the course, were left to ponder…well…what it means. What did the band have to say now?
The Truckers were always going to get a hero’s reception in Athens. Among the DBT faithful, making the trek to Athens for Homecoming is akin to seeing Springsteen in Jersey. All three nights always sell out and the crowd is always ten-deep at the lip of the stage five minutes after the doors open at the Watt. The opening night of this year’s Homecoming saw a backwards-ballcapped loudmouth get the heave-ho as Hood had security bum-rush the kid for causing a disturbance directly in front of him during…wait for it…”What It Means.” Though he slammed a cold beer a couple of songs later to, as he put it, “try to get my ass in a better mood,” the vibe of the room was noticeably harshed. Listening to the live stream of night two, it sounds like the band rebounded nicely…ripping through a hits-heavy set that ended with an incendiary take on “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
Which brings us to Saturday night…night three. This is the show that always sells out first. And when Hood, sporting a spiffy Clash t-shirt, led the band onto the stage, they got their hero’s welcome. Cooley got the first word, kicking off the show with his own “Ramon Casiano,” the lead-off track from the new record. From there, he and Hood took turns at the mic as DBT mixed about two-thirds of “American Band” with familiar longtime setlist warhorses, a few deep(ish) cuts, and a couple of covers that couldn’t have been farther apart thematically or atmospherically. The first one, early in the set, was a jokey “Did that really just happen?” run-through of The Jimmy Castor Bunch’s 1972 novelty hit “Troglodyte.” The second one might’ve been the evening’s mission statement…Hood’s visceral growl on John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth” was a middle finger to “alternative facts” and “fake news.” And they followed it up with Cooley’s sublime “Once They Banned Imagine.” Of course.
The new t-shirts at the merchandise stand bill Drive-By Truckers as “The Dance Band of the Resistance.” By the time they capped their 25-song set with a Ramones “It’s Alive”-tempo cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died,” the floor of the 40 Watt was packed with folks who seemed to be a lot more concerned with dancing than resisting. But with a new dour and unsmiling Washington regime in place that couldn’t spell “fun” if you spotted them the “F” and the “U” running the show, that dance band is liable to come in handy for a while.
Grade – A
Ramon Casiano That Man I Shot 72 (This Highway’s Mean) Ever South Made Up English Oceans Goode’s Field Road Women Without Whiskey The Tough Sell / Troglodyte Filthy and Fried Working This Job Kinky Hypocrite Gimme Some Truth Once They Banned Imagine A World of Hurt Gravity’s Gone 18 Wheels of Love Surrender Under Protest Lookout Mountain Marry Me Let There Be Rock Shut Up and Get on the Plane Angels and Fuselage Zip City People Who Died