sun 14/07/2024

Drive-By Truckers, Shepherd's Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Drive-By Truckers, Shepherd's Bush Empire

Drive-By Truckers, Shepherd's Bush Empire

The Southern balladeers' latest line-up is going strong

Drive-By Truckers: the straightforward approach

“We're gonna hit the road harder than we've hit it in a long time… There's no bullshit going on.” So said Drive-By Truckers’ co-frontman Patterson Hood last February. From the grin he wore while he took to the stage last night, it was evident this had been no empty promise. Despite a sound quality that was decidedly meh throughout, the band succeeded in filling the Shepherd’s Bush Empire with the atmosphere of an Alabama roadhouse.

It helped that support act, Heartless Bastards, kicked off proceedings with some of the most joyous lo-fi stomping you could hope to find this side of Jack White. Their no-frills garage sound had hints of blues, country and new wave. Lead singer Erika Wennerstrom’s voice, though, was just something else –  elements of Cat Power and Joan Wasser could be detected, but, to get an idea that does her justice you should really check the band out on Spotify.

'Box of Spiders', introduced with a charming rambling account of his whoring great grandfather, was a particular treatThe Truckers arrived with little ceremony about half an hour after the Bastards ended. There was no stage dressing -  just a drum kit and the band. The guys looked so casual you could have easily mistaken the individuals for roadies. Mike Cooley looked as if he might have a day job selling insurance. Hood had the air of a friendly bear. Only drummer Brad Morgan with his long Texan-style beard had any real visual presence. But the evening was not about appearances. It was all about deeply human narratives telling of life below the Mason-Dixon line.

The guys kicked off with “Made up English Oceans” - one of six Cooley-penned tracks on the new album. Despite the bass and vocals distorting a little, bouncy rhythms captured the cautionary tone of the original. Hood then took over for his “Girls Who Smoke”, a paean to the thrills of the wet British festival scene. And so the pattern was set for the rest of the evening, with Hood and Cooley rigidly alternating their material .

On record, I’m not sure whose songs (or voice) I prefer. But last night Hood showed himself to be definitely the more natural performer. While the band romped through their usual gamut of styles – including Americana, Southern Rock and hillbilly – Hood’s country ballads stood out. “Box of Spiders”, introduced with a charming, rambling account of his whoring great grandfather, was a particular treat. Not far off were the hilarious “18-Wheels of Love” and the joyous “Let There be Rock”. Cooley’s best moments – unsurprisingly for such an instinctive guitarist - came from his country rockers. “Get Downtown”, “Shit Shots Count”, and “Marry Me” got the biggest reactions from a crowd who were enthusiastic, if not quite as fanatical as I had expected.

Because, although almost everyone seemed to grasp every nuance of every lyric - despite the often mumbled delivery - the mood near where I was sitting became subdued towards the end. Some fans even left before closer “Grand Canyon” completed the band’s rather nifty sign-off. More fool them. After two hours and 18 songs, keyboard player Jay Gonzelez put a Hammond organ drone on a loop, and after each band member played a little solo, they then, very casually, just sauntered off. Powerful…and bullshit-free.

Overleaf: Watch Drive-By Truckers video for "Made Up English Oceans"



One of the best Live rock acts in the world. Hell, why aren't they headlining Glastonbury? As for Heartless, best way of describing the lead singer is to say she sounds like June Tabor put through a cement mixer..

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