The Drive-By Truckers cannot stop themselves from getting better. Every show reveals new horizons in sound and sight. My sixth concert experience with them, on Saturday at Union Transfer, was just the kind of explosive, let-it-all-hang-out rock experience Philadelphia needs right now.
1. American Band still provides plentiful material for this touring machine.
The fire within the politically charged 2016 record still sizzles—especially when it’s played live. Patterson Hood dedicated the show’s opener, “Guns of Umpqua,” to activist Emma Gonzalez and other March for Our Lives activists. The blistering anthem “What It Means” showed a Hood who’s deep in thought about these senseless school shootings. His monologue about the song was especially poignant, telling a story about a shooting outside his one-time home in Athens, Georgia, and how the death that resulted seemed to be brushed over a few days later. Life is not an afterthought to the Drive-By Truckers and the spirit of these songs empowers those listening to do what Hood heard Patti Smith declare at a concert: “Love each other, motherfuckers.”
2. “Perilous Night.”
The band’s newest song carries the ideas of American Band and merges them with the current political climate. It pops with its hooks and driving guitar lines while also playing counter to the darkness of the lyrics. “All hope is fading and it’s not coming back again” introduces a cornucopia of connections between hate and the past and how “we’re moving into the perilous night.”
3. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Truckers’ first album, Gangstabilly.
Early in the set DBT delivered three songs from the record, starting with “The Living Bubba.” Hearing the old and new songs side by side showcased how far the band has come over the years. Two covers popped up: an awesome version of Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents” and the as-always-joyous take on the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” The phenomenal set, filled with lush pulse lighting of reds, purples, blues and whites, was off capped with “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy.”
4. About the opener…
Erika Wennerstrom, of the Heartless Bastards, opened with a dynamic set of music from her new solo work Sweet Unknown. The set concluded with the most rocking of the bunch, “Good to be Alone,” while the rest of the seven songs showed the hooks and guitar aesthetics that have made her past work rewarding.