Drive By Truckers brought the European leg of their Darkened Flags tour to Manchester in spectacular style and confirmed that music still remains the most powerful vehicle for protest.
Support band EYELIDS OR, from Patterson Hood’s adopted hometown Portland Oregon, kicked off the evening in style. Describing their music as “sweet melodies and bummer vibes”, the band produce a sound that blends power, harmony and riffs into a package that delivers a blistering live experience.
EYELIDS OR have released a debut LP, a 12″ EP and 6 singles. They’ve also toured with The Charlatans UK (who released Eyelids’ debut album “854” in the UK), and have an upcoming Record Store Day collaboration with Gary Jarman of the Cribs. This is EYELIDS first venture abroad but judging by the performance, it certainly won’t be their last.
The band are currently completing their 2nd album, produced by Peter Buck of R.E.M. and the new tracks played tonight sit very well with older songs such as Seagulls Into Submission and Psych #1. The new material from ‘Or” will certainly make a few people sit up and listen as EYELIDS seem to have that precious gift of blending power and melody to create the perfect sonic experience. Their triple guitar attack avoids the trap that is easily fallen into, of trying to bludgeon the listener with brute power, but instead surgically dissects your resistance with a superb cocktail of riffs
Jay Gonzalez joined the band on stage to perform Camelot from the new album while set closers Don’t (Please) Come Around Here another new track and Say It’s Alright, from 854 pretty much sealed the deal on a hugely impressive Manchester debut.
The Wes Freed stage backdrop, combining the ‘creepy swamp’ feel of The Dirty South album cover with the draped Stars and Stripes that reference American Band, set an appropriate tone for the evening as the subsequent set would celebrate the extensive Drive By Truckers back catalogue while also emphasising the relevance of their current release.
American Band featured on many ‘best of’ lists in 2016 and The Bitter Southerner site, in placing it a Number 1 on their list, described it as Drive By Truckers “best record of their lives and their boldest statement”. So when the band take the stage tonight to the cheers of a packed house, it is to deliver their statement, not just on the ‘State of the Union’, but on universal problems that seem to be multiplying by the day.
First song this evening is Baggage, Patterson Hood’s effecting study of the impact of depression, written in the wake of Robin Williams’s suicide. This is followed by Mike Cooley’s Ramon Casiano which references the unpunished killing of a young Hispanic boy by former NRA leader Harlon Carter in 1931 but which still has clear relevance today.
This opening set the pattern for the evening as Hood and Cooley, two of the finest contemporary song-writers, take it in turns to deliver songs of searing political relevance or social issues. The Patterson Hood songs are often delivered in personal stories, such as the brilliantly unsettling Guns of Umpqua which shows the problem of US gun laws through the eyes of a student awaiting death in a barricaded classroom, Sink Hole and Ever South, the intro to which was worth the admission alone.
Mike Cooley’s genius lies in the creation of a lyrical prism through which you discern the song’s meaning such as Gravity’s Gone, A Ghost to Most and Made Up English Oceans, which shows that American Band wasn’t the start of the band’s political comment.
Also clear tonight is the strength of the band, one of the best live acts around, with rhythm section of bassist Matt Patton and long-standing drummer Brad Morgan holding things together while the brilliantly versatile Jay Gonzalez fires out riffs one minute and delivers keyboards the next. Crucially though, despite the seriousness of the songs subject matter, it is clear that the band are enjoying ‘the rock show’ every bit as much as the audience and Let There Be Rock is powerful reminder that the band are and always will remain fans as well as musicians.
Patterson Hood had already warned the audience that he was too old to take a break so there would be no encore, but with a set that lasted over two hours no one was complaining as the evening came to a rousing conclusion with Hell No I Ain’t Happy that included a tribute to prince with Sign Of The Times.
Drive By Truckers delivered a powerful and much-needed reminder of the enduring strength of music as a vehicle for protest.
Check out my interview with Mike Cooley about American Band here
All words by Dave Jennings: