Few bands show the lasting endurance of live music like Drive-By Truckers. The Mike Cooley and Paterson Hood-led troubadours were all but guaranteed to hit the road as soon as possible in support of their two new records from 2020, “New OK” and “The Unraveling.”
Each album was an introspective look at their own anxieties both, politically and naturally, a look at life during the pandemic. Hood and Cooley have never shied away from being candid, and that was on full display at Riverfront Live Thursday evening.
The Cincinnati venue was the first of a long stretch of tour dates throughout the U.S., and as the band took the stage, you could see a sort of rejuvenation in Paterson Hood and Mike Cooley. Even at points laughing and smiling as they returned to the most essential aspect of their band, their live performance.
That sense of joy was interesting to experience as it was often paired with some of Hood and Cooley’s more somber and serious topics. Such as the misrepresentation of the Southern experience to the current political climate. However, there is much more to this band than the lyrical content of its two leaders.
The raw approach to Southern rock is maybe the most unique aspect of the Drive-By-Truckers. It builds off the punk roots of bands like Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt while adding this Neil Young and Crazy Horse-paced performance. Packing in 22 songs within 2 hours, few punk bands can do that consistently with the longevity of Drive-By Truckers.
The highlight of the performance for many is always “Ronnie and Neil.” The song is the mission-statement of the band’s critically acclaimed record, “Souther Rock Opera.” It highlights the relationship between the late Lynard Skynard front man Ronnie Van Zant and Neil Young.
Those who only know the lyric referring to Young in “Sweet Home Alabama,” as a early version of a “distrack” response to Young’s “Southern Man,” assume that the two hated eat other. However, it has been widely reported that the two actually were good friends. Even so much so that Van Zant was said to be buried in a Neil Young t-shirt and Young was said to be a pallbearer at Van Zant’s funeral.
The song is a perfect microcosm of the misunderstood identity of the South. Many assume there is a uniformed mentality and politics of the people who call the region of the country home. If Hood and Cooley had a mission with the music of Drive-By Truckers it would be to tell the true story of the South and the people from there. It felt almost too fitting to have them play at a setting and stage where you sat in Ohio, and to the left of the stage was Kentucky. Few settings throughout the country would be a more perfect place to listen to the hard working Southern rock act.