What do you get when you pair one of America's great live rock bands with one of Salt Lake City's least fan-friendly venues? A decent show, and one pissed-off lead singer.---
The Drive-By Truckers are consummate pros when it comes to delivering live; their concerts are what made their reputation and what continue to make their fans some of the most die-hard around. They're no jam band, but folks travel great distances to see the Georgia-based sextet do their thing.
I haven't done that myself, but I've seen the Truckers nearly every time they've stopped in Utah, at venues ranging from the Zephyr to Suede in Park City to the short-lived Palladium. And I've never seen primary singer and frontman Patterson Hood as distracted on stage as he was Wednesday at In The Venue. He was pissed he couldn't have a beer on stage, he hated the cage that separates the bar area from the floor in front of the stage (hey, don't we all?), and he repeatedly had to chastise the security guards for letting some "dickhead" continue starting fights in the crowd right in front of him. I thought we might have an Axl Rose-dives-into-the-audience moment for a while, but Hood kept his cool even though he was clearly angry.
"First I can't have a beer on my own stage, then I have to watch some dickhead fight?" Hood ranted. Later, when the same guy was causing trouble in the audience, Hood yelled into his microphone, "Will you PLEASE get this dickhead out of my face!?!"
While Hood was clearly distracted, the Truckers performances during the two-plus-hours set didn't really suffer. It was just a drag that the typically happy-go-lucky frontman didn't spend more time between songs telling funny stories—as is normal—instead of having to play security coordinator.
The show drew heavily from the Truckers' excellent new album, The Big To-Do. They took the stage to the sounds of their Record Store Day single, guitarist Mike Cooley's "Your Woman is a Livin' Thing," before launching into the epic To-Do opener, "Daddy Learned to Fly." The three-guitar attack that fuels that churning Hood tune is what makes the Truckers sound like a throwback Southern-rock band to many, but Hood, Cooley and bassist Shonna Tucker all ground the lyrics of their respective songs in the Right Now.
That was obvious in the working-man blues of Hood's "This Fucking Job" as well as the torn-from-the-news-of-the-weird story that inspired "The Wig He Made Her Wear." "Drag The Lake Charlie" is funkier than a typical Truckers track, and Tucker's beefy bass and Cooley's scorching guitar work help make it one of Hood's best new songs.
Cooley stepped to the mic for some of the show's best moments, as is typical; he's not as prolific a writer as Hood, but his songs always stand out, both for his laconic vocal style and intense playing. "Birthday Boy" from The Big To-Do came early, while older Cooley cuts like "Self Destructive Zones" and "Marry Me" offered some of the set's most thrilling moments. Tucker only sang lead on two songs, and her "(It's Gonna Be) I Told You So" from The Big To-Do is her strongest addition to the Truckers' catalog so far.
That catalog provided plenty of ammunition to help make up for Hood's mood. He couldn't help but smile when the band reached full flight on songs like "Daddy Needs a Drink" and "Get Downtown." The encore included "The Flying Wallendas," a brilliantly rugged take on "Hell No, I Ain't Happy" (we know, we know!) before ending with Hood's awesome picture of growing up a rock fan in the South, "Let There Be Rock."
In the end, a pretty typically stellar Truckers show. Too bad Utah Truckers fans will probably remember it most for where it was, rather than what it was—20 songs of great rock & roll.