“Man, the [stuff] that’s happening over there right now is unbelievable,” one guy standing next to me at Stubb’s last night said about last week’s missile strike in Syria.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s so scary,” his buddy replied. “All those weapons, on both sides...and using those chemicals on your own people, what a [messed-up] world we live in.”
Syria and its government might not have been the crowd conversation at any other of Austin’s downtown music spots Saturday night, but the above snippet of overheard conversation took place at a Drive-By Truckers show at Stubb’s, right in the middle of “Guns of Umpqua,” the Southern rock band’s solemn memorial to the people who died in the Umpqua Community College shooting nearly two years ago.
Elsewhere, patrons were dressed in “All Means Y’all” shirts and rocking out to songs that decried the use of trickle-down economics, the Confederate flag and racially motivated police shootings (and people danced!) Keyboardist Jay Gonzalez had a “Black Lives Matter” sticker plastered on his piano. Stage banter from vocalist and guitarist Patterson Hood included a tidbit about Jupiter being in close view in the night sky, and how the crowd should get a good look before America invades that planet: “We ain’t invaded Jupiter yet, but I bet it’s a real cool place.”
In other words, “The People’s Republic of Austin” was the perfect city to play host to the Drive-By Trucker’s perfectly crafted brand of socially conscious Southern rock. For nearly three hours, the Alabama outfit treated the Stubb’s crowd to stories about rock music, American politics, Southern history, and how all of those things intertwine, the past never quite moving to the rearview mirror the way we wish it might.
The group’s latest record, “American Band,” is a piece of protest music born out of the current administration, but also linked to the past: One of the standout songs from the album is “Once They Banned ‘Imagine,’” about the banning of the classic John Lennon song from American airwaves in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Vocalist and guitarist Mike Cooley sang that one live Saturday night, preceded by a cover of Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth.”
The Truckers’ Nirvana-meets-Skynyrd sound and conflicted past-meets-present songwriting about “The Southern Thing” have always been their calling card. But hearing Hood belt out “Ever South” under a cool Texas night sky after introducing it as a song about “this beautiful, conflicted kind of f---ed up place we live in” emphasized the Truckers’ message even more: The world may be a terrible place and we’re all going to die, but it’s also a beautiful place, one worth fighting for, and at least we’ve got rock music to help us through it.
As long as Hood and Cooley keep writing songs and the Truckers keep providing a rollicking backing band for their ideas, the Drive By Truckers will remain America’s greatest rock band for the modern Southerner: One that calls out the hypocrisy he sees before him, yet still believes the world can change. By the time the last blistering guitar solos of “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy” stopped lingering over Red River Street and Hood finished exhorting the crowd to “start the resistance,” it wasn’t hard to be on the Truckers’ side in thinking that rock music could change the world.
“Darkened Flags On the Cusp of Dawn”
“Surrender Under Protest”
“Women Without Whiskey”
“Filthy and Fried”
“The Righteous Path”
“Made Up English Oceans”
“Guns of Umpqua”
“Ghost To Most”
“Company You Keep”
“The KKK Took My Baby Away” (Ramones cover)
“Gimme Some Truth” (John Lennon cover)
“Once They Banned ‘Imagine’”
“What It Means”
“Girls Who Smoke”
“Let There be Rock”
“Shut Up and Get on the Plane”
“Hell No, I Ain’t Happy”
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