The South. To some people it's verbena and honeysuckle; Faulkner and Flannery and Atticus Finch. To be Southern is to feel pride in your shame and shame in your pride; to move slowly enough to actually live but without blinders to the occasional difficulties. To be Southern is to recognize there's progress to be made, and family to never let you forget it.
And where better to contemplate both the blithe and the blighted Southern thang than in a Baptist church. It's the last Saturday night in November, and I'm waiting for the Drive-By Truckers to take the stage at the tightly packed and equally tightly wound Tabernacle. Even if it weren't obvious that the Tabernacle is a converted Baptist place of worship, I'd know this must be church because my ass is numb but my soul is elated. I'm here to celebrate 20 years of songwriting partnership between the Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, and soak up the sweat-yellowed jams they discharge like bullets.
Twenty motherfucking years. Man, if I thought about much of my last 20 conflicted years, I'd have to admit to some premature ejaculation -- and I'm talking failed occupational intentions, not sex. But Hood and Cooley have managed staying power, successfully seeding a career while a bunch of us were just dickin' around. Hood and Cooley have been tilling furrows of loamy hymns from their brows and for 20 motherfucking years, doggedly gigging as they explore both the ignorance and intelligence of being Southern, with empathy but not sympathy. Oh, and in the process, the Drive-By Truckers has become a fanfuckingtabulous barroom band with stadium potential.
And one of the things that make the Drive-By Truckers great, and greatly Southern, is a willingness to be imperfect. On stage, Hood, Cooley, songwriter/vocalist/third prong-of-the-three axe attack Jason Isbell, bassist Shonna Tucker, drummer Brad Morgan and pedal steel player John Neff passed a bottle of Jack in between gut-punch, tar-coughing riffs that didn't see the need to always exactly meet their cue.
Over two hours, the Truckers drew from all five albums released since 1998, plus one song from Hood/Cooley's first band, Adam's House Cat, and offered a sneak peek at one Replacements-like stomper (commonly referred to as "February 14") from the tentatively titled A Blessing and a Curse album planned for spring 2006 release. In doing so, the Truckers set about exploring heritage, not legacy, because legacy implies something bigger than one man. The Drive-By Truckers look at something internal and eternal in the South and Southern rock; the songs explore how good men can do bad things but bad things don't have to overtake good men. To be Southern is to be both sides of the coin -- but, to date, the Drive-By Truckers keep coming up heads.
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