When Wall Street's in freefall, the housing market's a mess and economic uncertainty makes cranky bastards of us all, the band for the moment is the Drive-By Truckers. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley specialize in the Battle Hymn of the Working Class, nowhere more precisely and powerfully than in last night's "People on the Moon," which benefitted from an arrangement that racheted up the tension during the verse.
Even before John Neff sat down at his pedal steel, the Truckers struck me as 21st Century Honky-Tonk band, playing the guitar rock that people drink, fight and fall in love to, and that was certainly the vibe last night at the Varsity, where three guys brawled like a wrecking ball through the crowd to my right, and one couple took every occasion to slow dance that they could find.
The set focused on Brighter Than Creation's Dark , and the fragmentary nature of the songs made them feel less like Big Rock and more short story-like - not what I always want from the Truckers, but it's a nice step away from precipice of Bigness for Bigness' Sake that they flirted with in song styles, song lengths, show lengths, and raw sonic poundage.
The oddity in the set was a cover of Tom Petty's "Rebels." At first, it seemed superfluous. Every song Hood and Cooley write is obviously southern, and there's no escaping the south in their voices. But in the set and in the Varsity, it was something smarter than that - it the interior monologue of the people in the songs and the people in the room. It was people finding a simple, fixed identity to claim and hang on to when everything else in their lives was unstable and complicated. It's a semi-truth that will do when you're not quite sure how rich assholes can fuck up on such a large scale that they get bailed out to the tune of billions while you can't get out of doghouse for getting drunk tailgating before the LSU game and puking in the window of your girlfriend's father's car.