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The Drive-By Truckers are closing out the new year with the help of three opening acts.
FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Patterson Hood spent most of the fall in a van, sandwiched among guitar cases, luggage and musicians. It was his longest solo tour in years, a chance to take a break from the rock 'n' roll circus he'd built with his band, the Drive-By Truckers, and explore something different.
The venues were cozy, midsize places. The performances were scaled-down, filled with strummed acoustic guitar and swirling keyboards. Although he performed most of the shows with a full band, Hood shook up his usual lineup, asking a cello player to cover the bass parts and roping in the members of his opening act, Hope For Agoldensummer, to sing harmonies.
"It was one of the best bands I've ever heard in my life," he said last week, several days after the tour wrapped up with a pair of Nashville performances. "I did enjoy playing the smaller, more-intimate venues, and playing music that wasn't so big and loud much of the time. I'm able to really be a better singer when I can hear myself and not have to sing over the big sound."
"That said," he added, "I also enjoy being part of the big Drive-By Truckers sound and playing those big, cool rooms, so a balance is kind of ideal."
The balance will be restored this weekend at the 9:30 Club, where the Drive-By Truckers have scheduled a three-night New Year's bash Dec. 29-31.
The D.C. residency will be their final project of 2012, of course, not to mention the Truckers' first string of shows in several months. The opening acts, which change every night, include Deer Tick and the North Mississippi Allstars Duo.
Hood isn't the only Trucker who's been blazing his own path this year. Mike Cooley released a live album, "The Fool on Every Corner," culled from three solo shows in the Drive-By Truckers' home state of Georgia. Like Hood's tour, Cooley's shows were stripped-down gigs, featuring little more than vocals and fingerpicked guitar chords.
Other songwriters have cycled through the Truckers' lineup, most notably Jason Isbell and Shonna Tucker, but Cooley and Hood have always been the group's musical core. They're allies and foils, sharing a common set of influences--a mix of old-school country, soul and Southern rock--while differing in their approach. Hood is the band's blustery preacher, animating every song with outstretched hands and a Bible Belt drawl, while Cooley is the understated sidekick, crooning his way through wry tunes about down-and-out characters.
While Cooley and Hood toured the country, the other Truckers also kept themselves busy. Keyboardist Jay Gonzalez released his own album, "Mess of Happiness," and drummer Brad Morgan bounced between several side projects, including a construction gig building customized road cases for other bands. Whenever any of the Truckers played their own shows in Georgia, several of their bandmates would either join them onstage or look on from the audience.
"I'm really a huge fan of all of the folks in my band," Hood enthused. "[Pedal steel guitarist] John Neff plays in numerous bands in Athens, and I always stand in front of his side of the stage and watch him, because I don't get to really see him play when it's a DBT show. Same goes with Brad Morgan. He's our drummer and is always right behind me, but he has some side projects and I love seeing him play.
"I love Jay Gonzalez's solo album and shows," he continued, psyching himself up for the Drive-By Truckers' final shows of 2012. "I was a huge Dexateens fan, and now their bass player [Matt Patton] plays with us. Damn, I have a great band. I hope they don't ever fire me."
Andrew Leahey is a freelance writer for Weekender and a musician.