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Drive-By Truckers finds little to celebrate

Teragram Ballroom, Los Angeles, October 11, 2016

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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While introducing "Guns of Umpqua," off the new "American Band" album, Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood wondered out loud - in a profanity-laced observation - why he can never seem to see a flag not at half-mast anymore. "We can do better, people!" he admonished the crowd. In an election year with two of the most unlikable presidential candidates running for the highest office in the land.

Drive-By Truckers leaned heavily on songs from its latest album. But even during the older song, "Puttin' People On the Moon," Hood directed a few choice words at Donald Trump. Even before the group took the stage, you could see a "Black Lives Matter" poster prominently displayed on the side of the organ.

Hood explained how "Guns of Umpqua" was inspired by yet another mass shooting. If it's not young black men being gunned down by police (or police targeted by young black men), there's one more unexplainable mass shooting - killings that have become all too common. Clearly, much of Drive-By Truckers' new music was inspired by our increasingly divided times.

Despite the obviously serious nature of its newer songs, Hood came on stage smiling. Maybe this was due to the oftentimes cathartic nature of DBT music. Although they've been lumped in with alt.-country acts, this group is nothing if not a fantastic guitar rock band. For instance, Hood clearly got off on the cool riff that drives "Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn." (It should be noted, too, that Drive-By Truckers create legitimately amazing rock and roll, without apologies, whereas too many 'country' artists make lousy rock and roll and then have the audacity to call it country).

Whereas Hood leans more toward minor key hard rock songs, the band's other primary writer, Mike Cooley, tends toward slightly more upbeat rockabilly-inspired rockers. It's a necessary balance because it keeps the mood from getting too dark. Cooley songs can be pretty bleak, too; he just dresses his a little brighter.

Hood told the audience how he'd recently moved to Portland, Ore. Even so, Hood was Alabama-raised, and he'll never completely exorcize his Southern roots. On another new one titled "Ever South," Hood even admits, "Where everyone takes notice of the drawl that leaves our mouth/So no matter where we are we're ever South."

Drive-By Truckers make uneasy music for an uneasy time. Maybe that's why this show didn't feel as good as past local dates. There isn't much joy in America nowadays, which leaves little for this American band to celebrate.