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No pandering needed for Drive-By Truckers

House of Blues, Boston, November 17, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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For some reason, one of the roadies for Drive-By Truckers felt obligated to urge the crowd to cheer louder for the roots rocking band if they wanted an encore. Of course, the folks responded in kind, and DBT was back for another 40 minutes.

Why such pandering was necessary was a mystery considering the quality of the performance prior to that. The veteran band proved yet again that quality was at the forefront.

Drive-By Truckers hone a roots/alternative country sound with a chunk of rock thrown in. Although a few songs are more overtly country, for the most part, the songs tend to be on the denser, harder-edged side. To their credit, the Truckers tend to let the songs play out to their natural conclusion. With a show clicking in at 130 minutes, time was on the Truckers' side.

That's not a hard thing to do considering the musical chops of these guys. The band employs three lead singers - Patterson Hood, who handled most of the leads guitarist Mike Cooley and bassist Shonna Tucker. That in and of itself keeps the listener on edge because of the differences in the voices. Hood and Cooley were on target. Hood has always been the focal point of the band with his expressive singing, but he ceded a lot of that territory to his two compadres. Hood sings with a soulful quality particularly evident on Everybody Needs Love from the band's latest, "Go- Go Boots."

A very serious sounding Cooley sang quite well with nods to Neil Young and Mick Jagger in his vocals.

The only negative of the night was the singing of Tucker. The bassist took leads on a few songs, and to put it mildly, she was not the best of the three singers. Next time, let Tucker stick to backing vocals where was far better.

When it came to the playing, DBT was at the top of its game. Cooley took a chunk of leads along with John Neff, who also spiced a lot of songs with pedal steel. Hood also managed to toss in lead guitar licks. Tucker and drummer Brad Morgan anchored the rhythm section, while Jay Gonzalez handled keyboards. This was one well-oiled machine, but don't ever mistake that for being complacent. No way.

Hood wasn't, for the most part, the rah rah, upbeat kind of entertainer. He'd get into the material for sure, but there was not all that much bonding with the audience beyond the songs.

Fortunately over the course of the lengthy show, the songs were more than enough to do the bonding with or without help from the crew.

Titus Andronicus opened the show with a punky-based set, which as lead singer Patrick Stickles noted, had nothing to do with the country sounds of DBT. He was an engaging humorous focal point, although he delivered verbally better than he sang.

The songs from the New Jersey band held together well were delivered with a chunk of vigor. Good set, but nothing over the top.