Drive-By Truckers, Eyelids at O2 ABC, 27/2/17

Off the back of last year’s American Band, there has been a fresh wave of interest in Drive-By Truckers.

The deep south by way of Athens five-piece’s latest record is their most overtly political to date and also their finest since the unstoppable run of alt-country classics they released in the early 2000s.

Returning to the ABC, a couple of years on from their last visit, their Stones bogey meets southern rock sensibilities finds an unlikely home in Glasgow.

First though, it’s up to fellow southerners Eyelids to treat the crowd to a short set; obviously influenced by the Atlanta legends REM, their winding guitar riffs, harmony vocals and trio of guitars make them a good match for the headliners and their songwriting is strong too, especially the retro ‘Camelot’ which sees a guest appearance from DBT keyboardist Jay Gonzalez.

Their recent record was produced by REM’s Peter Buck and the shared love of the Byrds and 80s college-rock shines through, with the two singers flitting between melodic verses, deft winding guitar lines and grungey power chords.

As Drive-By Truckers take to the stage for the first UK date of their Darkened Flags tour, it’s interesting to think that while hardcore fans still rave about the Jason Isbell-era line up from the early 2000s, this must be getting close to the longest they have ever operated without a line-up change.

Songwriting duo Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood are still centre stage but Jay Gonzalez, drummer Brad Morgan and bassist Matt Patton make up a solid backing unit, perceptibly shifting the group towards a leaner, more rocking sound.

The curtain rises with Cooley’s ‘Ramon Casiano’ – a story about a Mexican kid shot by the founder of the National Rifle Association, that draws a powerful parallel to Donald Trump’s rise to power.

As the opening track on American Band, it’s a fitting opener, a rollicking ride of crunching power chords with a full-throated chorus.

Next up is ‘Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn’, which asks some difficult questions about American patriotism and the reverential way the US flag is treated.

For much of the gig Cooley’s guitar is a little loud and the better tracks tend to be those where his blues riffs are not too dominant, but he’s the coolest and most effortless of the three DBT axeman.

Gonzalez switches between keys and a Gibson SG guitar and solos away in a corner like Angus Young, while the larger-than-life Hood leaps up and down while slashing at his guitar.

It’s a lesson in chemistry to see the trio play together; each with a distinctive guitar style that brings something different to one another’s songs.

When listening to a Truckers show you expect quite a body count, but tonight seems particularly gory, from the dustbowl suicide of ‘Uncle Frank’ to the terrified victim in the school shooting of ‘Guns of Umpqua’.

Fortunately though there’s humour and a lightness of touch too, particularly on the hardheaded but warm-hearted ‘Ever South’ and the cheeky rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Guitar Man Upstairs’.

The final stretch takes in a riotous version of ‘Girls Who Smoke’ from 2010’s The Big to-Do, the loud but lovelorn ‘Marry Me’ with its brilliantly explosive guitar solos and a brilliantly delivered take on the definitive Truckers anthem ‘Let There Be Rock’ – their tale of teenage misbehaviour that doubles up as a shout out to the classic rock and punk bands who inspired them.

Tonight it is delivered in a lengthy improvisational form that sees Hood adlibbing lyrics “I never saw the Clash but I saw the Replacements six or seven times”.

Drive-By Truckers is not a band that go in for theatrics; the lightshow is kept to a minimum and they prefer to just play through rather than leave and return for an encore, but when four band members step up to their mics to shout in unison on ‘Surrender Under Protest’ they deliver the thrill that great rock music is perfect at delivering.

They’re still America’s most underrated band and as their latest record and this performance show they’re still just as strong as ever.

More photos

Words: Max Sefton
Photos: Stewart Fullerton

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