The house lights went down and an eerie blue light came up on the stage. Behind the stage, a giant backdrop and two smaller backdrops displayed Wes Freed’s macabre circus imagery associated with both The Big To Do album and the tour. The lighting techs backlit the backdrops creating a cathedral effect; Freed’s artwork became a southern gothic stained glass tableau, setting the mood for some dark and powerful guitar rock and roll.
The PA music stopped and was replaced by strangely funky intro music, a James Brown meets hillbilly groove with spoken word over it, an unknown voice going on and on about fucking a chicken, that couldn’t help but remind us of Ernie Anastos (http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-september-17-2009/intro—ernie-anastos–catch-phrase?xrs=mrss)
As we were laughing in our balcony seats, the Truckers took the stage and launched into The Fourth Night of My Drinking, one of my favorite songs from the new album. The sound exploded through the Boulder Theater, vibrating the small fold out seats in the balcony. From our perch, we had an excellent view of the stage and could see Patterson Hood attack his guitar line as he belted out the lyrics. He cuts an imposing figure, a tall maniacal force with madman hair who reaches for his guitar as he plays, a full extension of his arm that seems to deliver more power into the chords.
After Drinking, Mike Cooley launched into Three Dimes Down, an energetic crowd favorite that revved the energy up another notch. Throughout the night, Cooley shined. My friend Nolan, a bigger Trucker fan than me, called him the “coolest man in rock and roll” and my wife compared his vocals to Mike Ness from Social Distortion. He showed tremendous range, particularly when singing the low end. His songs are among my favorites from the Trucker catalog.
The first two songs paved the way for an explosive night of music as the band surged from one song into another. Cooley and Patterson offer unique voices, their songs strong with story and seeped in Southern lore. Their vocals, likewise, present two strong but distinct visions, each reminiscent of the heritage of their music.
This is country music the way it is supposed to be: thoughtful, irreverent, full of narrative and fueled by three hardcore electric guitars that rev like diesel engines burning down a highway. Hood, Cooley and John Neff each know how to throw down a power chord and scream a solo but their playing has developed in a way that allows for interaction. Each player has space in the arrangement and the structure they create is not a wall of sound so much as interlocking pieces that build and complement each other. But you feel the arrangement rather than notice it as the power of the Truckers’ sound grabs you by the gut and forces you to pump your fist and nod your head.
Holding down the line is Shonna Tucker, whose base provides the groundwork for the three guitar assault. Wisely, the sound mix promotes Tucker so that her rhythm is not drowned out by the strong guitar work but is a present force throughout the show, pushing each song forward and laying the tableau for her band mates. While her vocal mic seemed to have some issues early in the show, these were ironed out by the time she unleashed It’s Gonna be (I Told You So), adding her distinct female vocal to the impressive lineup of voices that make up the Truckers.
Shortly after Daddy Needs a Drink, which found Nolan and I at the bar taking Makers shots, we worked our way onto the floor, giving up our comfy television view of the event for a ground level shot of the band and standing spots among the crowd, mostly twenty and thirty somethings drunk on bourbon and heady from the music’s fortitude. We danced and watched the interaction on stage as the band members built their aggressive onslaught together. Other standouts of the night included the live premier of Ray’s Automatic Weapon, Drag the Lake Charlie, Birthday Boy and This Fucking Job from Hood, Cooley’s Hell No, I Ain’t Happy and Self Destructive Zones.
This is a band that flat out plays one of the best live shows around. At the end of the night, we left the Boulder Theater inspired and wired, infused with the spirit of great song writing, incredible vocals and emotional, spirited musicianship. The Big To Do is a powerhouse show that showcases the unapologetic alt country voices of a very talented and ambitious band. The Drive By Truckers play Fort Collins tonight and Aspen on Saturday.