Sadness is the defining element of Southern rock in 2014. Checking in on its leading modern purveyors in one of their main clubhouses reveals a melancholy running deeper than the double-deep cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon that liquidate the room. Theirs is a blues without the form, which sometimes seems to be all that’s left of the aging blues. This is palpable, consistent emotion driven through late rock conventions. The bluesmen say they’re glad or proud about their affliction. While the Southern rock folks don’t despair, they are resolved: this is the situation, and the stories must be told. Listen for yourself.
That Saturday was my first visit to Athens’ famous 40 Watt Club, the third night of Drive-By Truckers’ “Homecoming” stand at the downtown venue. I saw the Truckers for the first time last summer, in Atlanta, and I was struck then by the degree to which a) they weren’t what I expected and b) their performance reoriented me to what they were doing. By the end of their short festival set I understood why people like them so much, and I jumped at the chance to hear them again last month in Athens when Magalan suggested the idea.
As expected, the band carries itself with a professional sound, and they rolled through a song like their opener, “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac” (their only original I recognized from last summer), with their signature tonal mood. By the time they played what I believe to be their only cover of the night– a perfectly suited version of Alice Cooper’s “Eighteen,” my recognition of which moderately restored my lost Athens cred when I failed to identify the guest guitarist as Peter Buck of R.E.M.– the crowd was in the palms of the band’s hands, and happily so.
The opening band, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, deserves comment as well. We were very nearly literally blown away by this dozen-odd-member throwback R&B/soul band from Alabama that plays Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and similarly styled originals with great gusto. As Southern 60s/70s throwback bands go, they occupy the soulful side of the same coin as Nashville’s disco dons, Space Capone. I came for DBT, but I wish St. Paul & Co. played all night. See them if you can.