For the most part, the lead singer gets all the attention. Not too many frontmen are willing to share the largest spotlight. It is rarer than an honest cab driver to witness a band divide the role and the attention as evenly as the Drive-By Truckers.
On Wednesday night at Culture Room, the first song, "Primer Coat" belonged to Mike Cooley, who crooned with an alt-country twang. Any emotions he might have been feeling remained as obscured as his eyes behind the bangs of his hair as he recited his straight forward descriptive lyrics. The next song, "When He's Gone," was sung by Patterson Hood with a nasally, Neil Young, classic rock delivery. And so it went.
Through Drive-By Truckers' 22-song, every odd song was Cooley's, and every even song was Hood's. The yin followed by the yang. The country followed by rock. The wiry, clean shaven stoic followed by the stocky, bearded, jokester.
Cooley and Hood complimented each other well. One would expect this as they have been in one band or another together for the past 29 years.
After growing up in Alabama, they started the Drive-By Truckers in Athens, Georgia, in 1996. There have been ten albums and many different line-ups. The current configuration as seen in Culture Room had Matt Patton on bass, Brad Morgan on drums, and Jay Gonzalez mainly on keyboards while occasionally sneaking on as a third guitarist.
Their tight sound fit comfortably in the wheelhouse of Americana, singing tales of ordinary people with ordinary lives although taking very different approaches. Cooley is the unbiased narrator who tries his hardest to get any personal quirks out of the way of his stories. Hood, on the other hand has a ball improvising and egging on the crowd for attention most notably on the song "A World of Hurt" where the line "It's fucking great to be alive" drew a loud roar from the audience.
The crowd was mostly made up of dads who cancelled their weekly poker game or bowling league to get a little rowdy and sing along. Drive-By Truckers obliged the festive atmosphere, strutting back and forth on the cramped stage making guitar god poses. After they finished a two hour main set with an extended jam of "Hell No, I Ain't Happy" the band took a long leave from the stage where the crowd pulsated in waves of acronyms "DBT! DBT! DBT!"
Eventually the band returned to the stage and went into a lengthy encore. Three songs into it and song titles were still being shouted in their direction.
"We could be here all night" Hood said. And not a soul in the room complained.