Deep into the Drive-By Truckers‘ February 15th show at New York’s Bowery Ballroom — an album-release bash for their new record, Go-Go Boots (ATO) — singer-guitarist Patterson Hood deviated from the promo to go back, way back, to “Sandwiches for the Road” from the band’s 1998 debut, Gangstabilly. Hood explained to the crowd that he’d written the song after the 1995 death of an idol and family friend — the great, troubled Alabama singer-songwriter Eddie Hinton. “Nobody can hurt you but yourself,” Hood sang, a warning come too late, in an anguished howl through a treble thicket of guitars. The night was heavy on Boots, but wedged in with new stories of long-distance regret (“Pulaski”), serious comeuppance (“Used to Be a Cop”) and contract murder (“Go-Go Boots”), the requiem for Hinton sounded right and prophetic — the start of the Truckers’ long, loud and vivid trip through a South of saints and lovers, sinners and victims, healers and fools who fight, drink, fall down and, in a lot of the best songs, get up again.
Hinton’s spirit returned later in the show, in the Truckers’ cover of his song “Everybody Needs Love,” a prime joy on Go-Go Boots. “Mercy Buckets” was another — a mixed blast of Muscle Shoals balladry and the rattling country of the early-Seventies Rolling Stones, with singer-guitarist Mike Cooley and guitarist John Neff soloing like mourning wolves. Highlights from a little further back included the patient vengeance in bassist-singer Shonna Tucker‘s high-stepping kissoff “(It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So,” from last year’s The Big To-Do, and the way Cooley sang his hook line, in a drawl somewhere between oh-shit and stone cool, in “Gravity’s Gone” from 2006’s A Blessing and a Curse: “I’ve been falling so long/It’s like gravity’s gone/I’m just floating.”
The uproar ended with an encore shot from 2001’s Southern Rock Opera: Cooley leading the way through the hellbent jubille of “Shut Up and Get on the Plane.” It’s a song weighted with historical reference — the 1977 Lynyrd Skynyrd crash — but the message is right in line with the rest of the Truckers’ songbook: Fuck fate. There’s work to do and action ahead.