Friday, July 21, 2017

Quite a Ride: Drive-By Truckers Deliver a Fun Free-for-All -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Drive-By Truckers
w/ opening act Honeysuckle
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Millennium Park, Chicago
July 20, 2017

I've paid to see the Drive-By Truckers a couple of times, in 2006 on a bill with the Black Crowes and in 2008 co-headlining with The Hold Steady.

But I can't say I've taken much note when they've rolled through town in recent years. With all the shows I see, of various ilks, my acute interest has just dissipated a bit.

Yet this isn't to suggest the Athens, GA-based band isn't still good; 2016's American Band album features some of my favorite DBT tunes to date.

So it was rather peachy when the Drive-By Truckers showed up on the schedule of Millennium Park Summer Music Series presented--free of charge--by the City of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE).

I've previously attended some fine free summer shows at the grand Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park--Dawes, Bob Mould, Richard Thompson, The Both--but hadn't noticed any acts prompting me to do so since 2014.

I'm glad my interest enticed my friend Brad, who--despite not knowing any Drive-By Truckers material--came away even more smitten than me.

Fortuitously, on a night when thunderstorms and/or high humidity seemed possible, the weather cooperated perfectly and the DBTs were nicely preceded by a 3-piece band from Boston called Honeysuckle.

By virtue of their employing a banjo, acoustic guitars and--at best, on select songs--just one bass drum, I will somewhat automatically employ the terms Americana and rootsy, but all their songs sounded pleasant, often with lovely 3-part harmonies. Speaking to this penchant, they played a cover song likely by Crosby, Stills and Nash, though I didn't recognize it.

Originals whose titles I caught--"Elvis Presley Blues," "Beautiful Rain," "Canary"--and even those I didn't were all quite good.

So I mean no disrespect to Honeysuckle or the DCASE scheduler who--in introducing them--noted that he had handpicked them to share this bill, but with the free 6:30pm shows having a 9:00pm curfew, I would have opted for 15 minutes less of the opening act's hour so the Drive-By Truckers could have gotten at least 90 minutes onstage.

As it was, their 75 minutes were well-spent, beginning with a rollicking "Surrender Under Protest," from American Band.

I only knew about half the songs, but they all sounded good, as founding members Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley traded off on lead vocals.

The songs sung by Hood--son of bassist David Hood from the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section--tend to be a bit more meditative ("Baggage," "Ever South"), while as with the first tune and "Ramon Casiano," another great one from the latest album, Cooley's tend to be punchier.

The Drive-By Truckers have been together since 1996--Hood and Cooley, longtime pals from Alabama, were also in previous bands--and with 12 studio albums, I know relatively little of their oeuvre.

And, as with jam bands and Bruce Springsteen--who I see as influences along with southern rock legends (Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers)--they change up their setlists greatly every time out, so it was hard for me to really study up much ahead of time. (See Thursday's setlist here.)

But I knew that their Southern Rock Opera double album from 2001 largely pertains to Lynryd Skynyrd, and enjoyed from it "Ronnie and Neil," "Shut Up and Get on the Plane" and "Let There Be Rock," which references the AC/DC song of the same name.

With a BLACK LIVES MATTER sign on their equipment providing a good sense of where the DBTs stand politically, it was also a hoot to hear them romp through the Ramones' "The KKK Took My Baby Away," with bassist Matt Patton on vocals.

By their 15th and final song, "Hell No, I Ain't Happy"--which had many in the crowd singing along gleefully--the Drive-By Truckers seemed to just be getting warmed up. (One recent show ran 24 songs, including two of my favorites, unplayed here: "The Righteous Path" and "Gravity's Gone.")

So even though it was an excellent show--especially for the price, and truly abetted by Honeysuckle--another 4-5 songs might really have added to the delirium that was beginning to build.

I guess the next time the Drive-By Truckers come to Chicago, I will have to pay to see them.

With a terrific free show, they certainly earned as much.

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