Lennon and McCartney. Leiber and Stoller. Strong and Whitfield. Hood and Cooley. After twenty years barnstorming America with their meticulously crafted story-songs and marathon live shows, it’s not really much of a stretch to include that last pair with the first three. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are the survivors, the two original Drive-By Truckers, purveyors of dense narratives and howling guitar solos which they’ve unleashed over the course of ten studio albums, a rarities collection, and now a massive triple live album, It’s Great To Be Alive! Tonight, the tour off that record brings them to Bogart’s, their their third Cincinnati appearance in less than a year, but given the way the last two have gone, this one is not to be missed.
The quintet recorded It’s Great to Be Alive! over a three-night run at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium a year and a half ago, and it’s the best representation yet of the majesty and chaos of a Truckers show. Hood and Cooley switch off on lead vocal duties, each taking roughly an equal share, and the tracklist (like their setlists) touches an all points of their discography. It’s a collection of incredible character sketches: an Athens musician touring right up to the end of his battle with AIDS on “The Living Bubba,” a car dealer making shady (and fatal) deals on “Goode’s Field Road,” and an Alabama widower raging at the lack of opportunity in the shadow of a NASA base in “Puttin’ People On The Moon” only begin to scratch the surface.
Cooley and Hood aren’t in this alone. Brad Morgan (known to his bandmates as EZB) has been holding down the drum throne since 1999. He’s joined in the rhythm section by Dexateens bassist Matt Patton, who joined during the making of the latest Truckers studio album, English Oceans. Multiinstrumentalist Jay Gonzalez helps tie the whole thing together, switching between guitar and his Hammond B3 organ. Drive-By Truckers have counted a lot of great musicians in their ranks of the years, including a seven-year tenure by alt-country troubadour Jason Isbell, but this may be the strongest, tightest lineup they’ve ever seen. Surely it won’t be too long before they’ll be back again, but every Drive-By Truckers show is played as if it would be their last. This is one of rock n’ roll’s best sure bets.