Flannel was the fashion du jour Wednesday evening when the Drive-By Truckers stopped through town. The crowd was a healthy mix of young and old, and there was enough brown bottle beer going around to satisfy an army or, if not army, at least a State Fair pavilion. A projected image of a dead, country landscape appeared on the Canopy stage’s back curtain, the lights dimmed slowly, and the Athena, Ga./Muscle Shoals, Al. quintet took the stage. Guitarist Mike Cooley lit a cigarette and the band began their set which would last two hours, including a three-song encore.
While the crowd was initially not as energized as one would have expected, the Truckers provided plenty of reasons to cheer by the end. Their set spanned the entire history of the band with a couple of gems from 1998’s Gangstabilly, many songs from their newest album Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, and plenty from in between. Throughout the set, singing duties alternated between guitarists and primary songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, with the charismatic Hood spending most of the time in the spotlight. Bassist Shonna Tucker, who celebrated her birthday the same night, also contributed with the beautiful “I’m Sorry, Houston” to shouts of “Happy Birthday” from the crowd – “We don’t play that one, anymore,” Hood joked. Other stellar moments included “Righteous Path,” “Marry Me,” and “Let There Be Rock,” in which the band let loose their trademark “three-axe attack” with Hood, Cooley, and third guitarist John Neff playing solos simultaneously. Hood also told the touching story (yes, touching) of how his mother ran off with a truck driver before “18 Wheels of Love.”
Some songs missed with the crowd early in the set but by the end, the crowd had warmed up to the Truckers and some even demanded a second encore. The band was able to translate their well-produced sound to a live setting successfully and Hood sang with the enthusiasm and gestures of a fireside storyteller. If you missed it, this is definitely a band to check out at any of the festivals they will be playing this summer.