Drive-By Truckers | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Drive-By Truckers 

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Southern rock has a toehold again nowadays, and as a transplanted southerner, in theory I'm all for it. But I sometimes find myself giving the fish eye when the stars 'n' bars show up on a sticker for some garage band from Seattle: what exactly do you mean by that? As a symbol the Confederate flag is more complex and ambivalent than Yankees tend to think, as are most of the superficial aspects of southern heritage. And complexity and ambivalence are usually not rendered well by the sort of folks who use the flag and the Jack Daniel's logo interchangeably. How long, I wondered, was it going to be before a real southern band came around again and actually said all this better and louder than I ever could? For the past few years I've had my eye on the Drive-By Truckers, from Athens, Georgia, whose sheer chops and utter absence of wink-wink-nudge-nudge alone put them far ahead of the indie-redneck pack. Their latest release, Southern Rock Opera, is what I've been waiting for. It's a double CD that began as an homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd--one that both told the band's tragic story and tried to capture some of what they meant to working-class southern kids in the 70s--and grew to encompass George Wallace, Molly Hatchet, the Civil War, and the touring life. I heard some of these songs performed live at South by Southwest this spring, and their sweeping mix of proud sentimentality, bitter honesty, and bluesy guitar solos brought me to something like tears. Front man Patterson Hood, who "came of age rebelling against the music in my high school parking lot" and didn't understand "the whole Skynyrd thing in all its misunderstood glory" until he'd left the south for a while, grew up in Alabama, the son of a Muscle Shoals session bassist who played on a number of classic rock and soul cuts. This undoubtedly gives him a little extra perspective on certain subjects--like the pissing match between Neil Young and Ronnie Van Zant immortalized in "Southern Man" and "Sweet Home Alabama." Neil "wrote 'Powderfinger' for Skynyrd to record," sings Hood, "But Ronnie ended up singing 'Sweet Home Alabama' to the Lord / And Neil helped carry Ronnie in his casket to the ground / And to my way of thinking, us southern men need both of them around." This gig is one of the few on the Truckers tour where they'll play Southern Rock Opera in its entirety; Hideout barkeep Kelly Hogan sings the part of Skynyrd's Cassie Gaines on the album, so maybe she'll join in here. Saturday, October 27, the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia; 773-227-4433.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Wilds.

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