It’s Great To Be Alive!
Near the end of 2014 Drive-By Truckers ran a three-night-stand at San Francisco’s Fillmore and this is the triple-disc set that captures the best of their efforts there. It’s a wondrous thing – utterly raw and beautifully ugly. That songwriters Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood both have different ways of going about endlessly riffing on and rewriting Neil Young’s Powderfinger is itself something special, something quite beautiful (and gnarled as well). But the way this white-white band makes a minor-chord slurry sound as appealing as The Roots’ clipped funk represents the very best of black bands is also something exquisite.
Here Patterson Hood the singer, the preacher, the comedian, the songwriter, the rambler, the storyteller, the bandleader, the guitarist and the one that defers – sometimes – to Cooley must all make room for the various vestiges and versions of himself – let along Cooley, who is far more straight-bat in his approach, but the band is a magnificent set of agriculturalists, ploughing and pulling and mining and magic-ing up various feels from The Muscle Shoals that’s in the blood of the band to the redneck culture the band both celebrates and satirises
They come out swinging and their bar-room balladry is almost relentless – until a gentle southern swing creeps in and caresses, seems reassuring even when it’s more tales of bad choices and suicides to cover up or merely as chance to bow out. The novels of Larry McMurtry and Jim Harrison and Faulkner and Steinbeck are here all blended up into a bluesy, punch-drunk swagger. And as drums lurch, organs swirl and guitars cluster it’s impressive to think that this is the streamlined Truckers, the 5-piece truncation that can still deliver career-summaries – as we get plenty from the most recent English Oceans and all the way back to a pre-Truckers 80s’-antecedent, Adam’s House Cat. Over 30 years of music collected and it feels – still – like a drop in the ocean with regard to what this band can do and what it’s worth.
That said this manages that rare feat of being the sort of career-summary, with the nice twist of a live edge, that could appeal to both the trainspotters and neophytes, first-timers mingling with old-timers. The Truckers’d like that. And as the guitars snarl on into the night this album’s catch-cry of “It’s fucking great to be alive!” from A World of Hurt sounds so celebratory as concept, as purpose, even though in the song it’s that buried-deep hurt this band’s songwriting does so well.
You could pick new favourites each time with 35 songs across three discs, almost everything clocking in over five minutes, plenty around the six/seven mark and one stretching to 13. Certainly Sink Hole, Women Without Whiskey, Mercy Buckets, Marry Me, Used To Be A Cop, Uncle Frank, Box of Spiders, A World of Hurt and Pauline Hawkins are all devastating slices of mad southern magic. What a band. What a set of shows. What a bunch of nights – and what great, great songs.