Drive-By Truckers: The duality of the Southern Thing

Avery Anderson and Cameron Slate

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This Thursday, Sept. 26, Athens, Georgia-based band Drive-By Truckers attracted throngs of cowboy-boot-clad rock and rollers to Tipitina’s Uptown, entrancing the crowd with their unique blend of southern-infused rock and alt-country. Tipitina’s flashing lights illuminated the band, casting the harbingers of a new breed of country rock in a uniquely New Orleanian light.

Jimbo Mathus started the night off right with a bought of blues-colored southern rock. A Mississippi native, Mathus quickly won over the crowd with his hard-hitting blend of country and psychedelia. Quipping and joking his way through the set, Mathus appeared incredibly modest for someone with over 25 years of industry experience. During the last half of his set, Mathus treated the crowd to a grimy rendition of his song “Alligator Fish” in all of it’s sludgy, southern and gothic glory.

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Cameron Slate | Contributing Photographer

Following Mathus’ set, it took a short time before the stage was set for Drive-By Truckers. The band opened with a roaring rendition of “Birthday Boy,” a song sung from the perspective of a small-town prostitute talking to one of her clients. Their opening number set the tone for the 3-hour long set that followed, where the Truckers played 31 songs total with few pauses in between. Drawing the lion’s share of the songs from their most well-known album “Southern Rock Opera,” the crowd nodded and reverberated along to the soundtrack of the southern experience. The Truckers performed tracks spanning their entire discography, covering over two decades of song writing in one night.

About halfway through their set, the Truckers launched into a haunting rendition of “Days of Graduation” followed by “Ronnie and Neil,” preserving the track order found on the original album. Both from 2001’s “Southern Rock Opera,” “Days of Graduation” recreates the story-telling tradition of the South in spoken-word fashion. The song recounts the tragic death of the narrator’s friend and girlfriend in a fatal car accident the night before graduation, exploring the atmosphere around the tragedy and the events leading up to it. Droning, ambient backing is interspersed with deep, lumbering guitar licks as the song kicks off. Patterson Hood, co-founder of the band, explains how when the paramedics reached the site, they could still hear “Free Bird” playing on the stereo. “After all,” Hood rumbles “it’s a very long song.”

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Cameron Slate | Contributing Photographer

In “Ronnie and Neil,” the Truckers delve into the fabled and often maligned history of Alabama, contrasting the often violent conflicts of the Civil Rights Era with the music being produced in Muscle Shoals, Alabama where artists such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Rolling Stones and others recorded seminal works. The song describes the relationship between Ronnie Van Zant and Neil Young, all set over a driving distorted guitar riff and heavy, crashing drums.

Drive-By Truckers stood and delivered on one of their most enduring notions: the conception of the Southern Thing. Playing songs that spoke to a deeper southern identity, the Truckers disseminated their truth over wailing guitar solos. The entire band played like eagles falling from the sky and refused to make the pretense of exiting before the encore, standing steadfastly on the stage until the last songs were sung at 1:15 a.m. “Because,” Hood said at the end of the set, “in New Orleans, Thursday night’s a weekend … and Saturday’s a goddamn holiday.”