* Drive-By Truckers played the Boulder Theater on May 13
The trouble with the Drive-By Truckers is that they try too hard to be what they’re not: which is far better than they really are.
It’s of no surprise that their latest album, The Big To-Do, has been put out on Dave Matthews’ ATO Records. Nor does it shock that the Truckers are about to start up their world tour with none other than rock legend Tom Petty. The members’ ultimately postmodern “Southern band” co-founded by the son of David Hood (of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) clearly have the chops. They just don’t seem to know what to do with their classic-rock training.
Perhaps they were off that night when I saw them play the Boulder Theater. But, watching a live concert of the Truckers to me was rather like licking the cookie batter bowl: sweet, delicious, and a little bit decadent…but in the end quite lacking in substance. Simply put: They make you want more, a fully baked treat.
Based out of indie rock haven Athens, Georgia, and begun in 1996 by Patterson Hood and his roommate at the time Mike Cooley, the Drive-By Truckers have, to date, put out an impressive ten full-length albums. In their early days, the Truckers were keen enough to take advantage of the nascent Internet “grass-roots” network far before most bands even knew that the Internet existed. Their rapid and constant touring also bolstered their strength and ever-growing fan base, and shortly after 2002, the Truckers were named Band of the Year by No Depression, a bi-monthly magazine rivaling the likes of Rolling Stone that specialized in alternative country and roots music before its folding in 2008.
When it was time to choose which show I’d be checking out thanks to Yellowscene’s sending me off to the Boulder Theater, I really couldn’t make up my mind. Frankly, everything remained equally uninteresting. But, I had been listening to 1190AM quite a bit (and still do), and the Truckers seemed to keep coming up. I checked them out on the Boulder Theater’s website, and they definitely seemed “good enough.”
It strengthened my sense of having made the right decision when I mentioned the show to a few of my friends both in Boulder and abroad. Everyone reminded me that the Truckers put on a “great show,” and I assumed the same. Though the music didn’t really seem to hit me on a gut level when I heard it online and otherwise, I just outright knew that a band trying to be Lynyrd Skynyrd would put on one hell of a rocking show… if not just to prove that they could. And I could only giggle at the notion of what kind of audience would go to such a show. My girlfriend and I purchased new hats and sunglasses for the affair.
So it was that I was immediately disappointed when I saw the first images of what the Drive-By Truckers’ members actually look like. That they resemble members of REM and cleaned-up, older versions of Smashing Pumpkins didn’t too much bother me at first. That my girlfriend and I were by far the nuttiest looking people there didn’t weaken my resolve, either. The stage looked amazing with the “Big To-Do” theme being extrapolated into a kind of nightmare circus motif spread throughout.
What really got my goat, once again, was that the music sounded just the same to me—particularly Hood’s less-than-stellar vocals—as it had on the Boulder Theater website. “Good not great,” was my immediate review, and it never much changed.
Now look, my girlfriend and I work with rowdy disabled young adults all day and it was a weeknight. I’ll give the Truckers this: they definitely got us out of the house. They just couldn’t keep us out. Their fun songs are definitely fun, their not-so-fun songs are still better than most contemporary pop music, and they at worst combine the best that the early 90’s had to offer. “Hmm,” I kept realizing over and over again, “this really reminds me of Counting Crows.” And I didn’t necessarily mean that in a good way.
True, as with most bands made up mostly of a certain pose—in this case the “solid American band”—the Drive-By Truckers are nothing if not one helluvah pragmatic band. They’re here, they’re doing what they do, and you’ll know right away whether you like it or not. And the Truckers are probably elated by this fact. They seem to want only die-hards, and you can tell by the audience. The folks in the audience around me appeared relatively restless and bored, too, but dedicated nonetheless. It was as though they were reflecting the pose of a “solid American band” audience. Regardless of the balls-out energy being there or not.
Personally, I just wish that the Truckers would have given it to us, whatever it was they were keeping back. They’re obviously ready for more, but I just wasn’t willing to wait around to hear it.
We were soon ready to go—my girlfriend with her hurt back and belly bursting with Juanita’s; myself dying of weariness. We both needed something spectacular to keep us from heading home to a much-needed rest. The Truckers did get us through the door, I paid our $4 for coat check, $11 for a Coors Light and watered-down Jameson in a Dixie cup, and I did experience their show.
But, it was soon time to admit defeat, and my girlfriend and I were ostensibly not the only ones who felt that less than an hour of the Truckers is all one needs to “get it.” Sure, the band has the moxy and heart to go the whole night, no doubt. I’m just one of the many who weren’t up for the long ride.