Friday, December 05, 2008

Live Review: Rock N' Roll Means Well Tour

Drive By Truckers/The Hold Steady
The Fillmore
San Francisco

The last time I caught the Drive By Truckers in concert they were opening up for the Black Crowes in Alpine, CA., and the potent combination of an early opening time slot and lack of crowd made for a show I'd rather forget.

Fast forward two years and I found myself on a crisp Sunday evening at the Fillmore in San Francisco, CA. taking a much needed 4 hour break from reality. In a time when our national economy yo-yo's between recovery and collapse, the $30 ticket for the Rock 'n Roll Means Well tour would prove to have a solid ROI and a healthy elixir for the soul.

The Hold Steady kicked the evening off with their punked up Springsteen brand of rock, and while the crowd was populated by more Trucker fans than Hold Steady fans, the band's infectious energy won quite a few converts by the end of their set.

Lead singer/guitarist Craig Finn worked the crowd with his manic stage energy, throwing his whole body enthusiastically into each song much like Fugazi's Giu Picciotto would back in the day. Finn's Springsteen/narrator-style lyrics and delivery weren't my cup 'o tea, but I give the band credit for a lively, passionate stage show. Hell, a guy in a gorilla suit showed up on stage at one point. A for effort.

My ear's perked up when THS invited DBT's Patterson Hood to the stage for a casual and spirited rendition of "Burning for You" by Blue Oyster Cult. The crowd erupted at this point, and the smiles spread across all the musicians faces on stage indicated the good times were about to get even better.

DBT took the stage to loud applause. For year's I've read about amazing DBT shows in the Bay Area and whatever the connection is between the band, the Bay Area and their fans, the electricity in the air was apparent and it was time to take a deep swig of whiskey and let the rock show begin.

Ask any longtime DBT fan what it's like for the band to begin a show with "Zip City" off their classic Southern Rock Opera album and they'll most likely tell you it doesn't get much better. The band fired off a trio of songs from that album to begin the show. "Ronnie and Neil" had an appropriate Neil Young/Crazy Horse ragged, dirge-like vibe, followed by the Mike Cooley-sung "72" giving longtime fans a nice tip of the hat to some prime era Truckers.

Picking up the pace a bit, the driving rhythms of "February 14" was a nice surprise as pedal steel guitarist John Neff traded searing licks with Mike Cooley over drummer Brad Morgan's piledriving syncopation. Without pausing, the band sequed to "The Righteous Path" and kept the energy high and opened a selection of songs off this year's Brighter Than Creation's Dark album.

A show highlight was the filthy blues funk of "Goodes Field Road". The band took the songs' swampy groove and opened it up wide in the live setting, giving Patterson Hood the perfect foundation to spin one of his southern tales of misfits and criminals. Bassist Shonna Tucker took a spin on lead vocals on the Who'ish "Homefield Advantage" letting the band jam the song out for a bit.

"The Stroker Ace", Mike Cooley had many shining moments in the evening - "3 Dimes Down" layed down some greasy Keef Richards guitar licks while "Checkout Time in Vegas" and "Ghost to Most" were pure country rock heaven.

Singer Kelly Hogan joined the band for two numbers - " I'm Your Puppet" and a haunting version of "Angels and the Fuselage" that had me hearing Patterson and Hogan singing "I'm scared shitless of what's coming next" for days in my head.

Being in San Francisco, the appropriately titled "Steve McQueen" was a late set special treat, as was a cathartic performance of "Hell No, I Ain't Happy". The set ended with Cooley's "Marry Me" complete with the tour-naming and now famous lyrical line "Rock 'n roll means well, but it can't help telling young boys lies".

While I couldn't put my finger on it, the band was projecting a confidence I had not seen in past performances. Maybe confidence isn't the right word, but the Drive By Truckers had a presence on stage all night long. They were in complete control of their craft and it translated into a monster of a first set.

The encore was full of even more surprises: An powerful cover of Springsteen's "Adam Raised a Cain", Van Halen's classic "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love" and Warren Zevon's "Play it All Night" complete with members of The Hold Steady sent the crowd into the stratosphere of rock 'n roll bliss before both groups knocked everyone in the building out with a vicious version of Jim Carroll's "People Who Died".

While The Hold Steady didn't win me over, both bands put on a hell of a show to give fans and new converts a transcendant Sunday night on the town. The Drive By Truckers played an amazing set of music that saw the band raise its game and deliver big time, leaving fans excited at the possibilities for the future.

Drive By Tuckers setlist:

Zip City
Ronnie and Neil
February 14
Righteous Path
Checkout Time in Vegas
Goode's Field Road
Ghost to Most
I'm Your Puppet (w/ Kelly Hogan)
Living Bubba
3 Dimes Down
Homefield Advantage
Lookout Mountain
Hell No, I Ain't Happy
Shut UP and Get on the Plane
Steve McQueen
Marry Me
Angels and Fuselage (w/ Kelly Hogan)

Adam Raised a Cain (Springsteen)
Where the Devil Don't Stay
Let There Be Rock (w/ The Hold Steady)
Ain't Talkin' Bout Love (Van Halen w/ THS)
Play it All Night (Zevon w/ THS)
People Who Died (Jim Carroll w/ THS)

Check out Alabama Ass Whuppin's great collection of photos from the show here


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