Drive By Truckers - O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire
Drive-By Truckers are a band that likes to give people a break, and the latest iteration of the band - still led by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley - are no different. Over the years they’re had support from any number of up-and-coming acts, including originally giving a first tour to tonight’s openers - the rough and ready rock 'n rollers, Heartless Bastards. Now well established in their own right, the garage rock band from Cincinnati are back in supporting mode for this European leg of the Truckers tour. And they’re on form tonight, with lead singer Erika Wennerstrom particularly strong, as the band stomp through a half hour set with some fantastic heavy rock guitar solos - and no little panache. They’re a tight band who know their own sound and put on a proper show devoid of histrionics.
You have to give the Alabaman Truckers credit: the dangerous thing about having a decent opening act is that if they’re too good then you have no room to be off your game. Luckily, off nights for Hood, Cooley, and co. are very rare events and tonight is no different. Starting off with three of four tracks from their recent English Oceans album is a slightly risky move, but it does set up the alternating vocal set-up that runs through the evening. Cooley takes lead on ‘Made Up English Oceans’ before Hood takes over on ‘Girls Who Smoke’, and it goes on from there.
The two leads work well together. They contrast physically: Cooley is more relaxed, all dirty denim and long hair, while Hood is bigger and bouncier, like a bear that’s had too many M&M’s. As front men, Cooley just gets on with things and Hood starts most songs with long preambles about the upcoming tune. Hood’s strategy works well, making songs stay in your head for a long time. ‘Box Of Spiders’ and the story about Hood’s great grandfather The General, and the hilarious ’18 Wheels Of Love’ about Hood’s mother running off with a trucker, are just two of many highlights.
Despite the uncharacteristically quiet and unenthusiastic London audience the band themselves seemed to have great time on stage: extended guitar jams on ‘Hell No, I Ain’t Happy’ and ‘Let There Be Rock’ are technically brilliant, but more importantly fantastic fun. Newer songs ‘Primer Coat’ and ‘Shit Shots Count’ sound right at home alongside the back catalogue. The Truckers left the best until last though with an astounding performance of new track 'Grand Canyon' which ends with each member of the band laying their instrument down and quietly wandering off stage. The effect is hard to describe and it's a perfectly judged end to the two hours.
As good as Heartless Bastards were in the support slot the Drive By Truckers manage to be better. A proper good band on record they’re an altogether more exciting proposition live.