Live: Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley Play Rare Acoustic Show
By Brian Ives
Guitarist/singer/songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have been playing together for more than two decades, most notably as the co-frontmen of alternative/Southern rock band the Drive-By Truckers, the group they founded together in 1996. While they have a long history, they don’t often perform together as just an acoustic duo. But this past Sunday (March 2) at City Winery in New York City, they did exactly that, taking the small stage with just their acoustic guitars.
Hood and Cooley were in town promoting the latest Drive-By Truckers album English Oceans, which is due out Tuesday (March 4). And, in fact, the show mostly served to showcase those songs.
A format like this would not have worked for the last few Truckers albums, as Hood has handled most of the songwriting in recent years. On English Oceans, however, the songwriting is split 50/50; so for the first time in a while, a Truckers show sticking with new songs would feature the duo taking an equal number of songs.
The fans seemed as excited by this new development as Hood did. As he told the crowd, he didn’t want to start a new album until Cooley called. And when he did, not only did he report that he had songs, Hood said, he’d also booked studio time and scheduled their producer, David Barbe.
Cooley’s songwriting took center stage from the beginning of the City Winery show, which, like the album, started with “S*** Shots Count” (written by Cooley), a powerful rocker that’s reminiscent of one of the group’s most popular songs, “3 Dimes Down.” The studio version features a horn section, so this was a more intimate look at the song — one that, for instance, allowed the audience to really concentrate on Cooley’s poetic but plain-spoken lyrics about middle American life (such as this gem: “Trophy tail wives taking boner pill rides for the price of a happy meal”).
Later on, Cooley introduced the album’s first single “Made Up English Oceans” by asking, “You remember that nasty-ass rumor about Rod Stewart from a few years ago?” And that gave a bit of (perhaps unnecessary) context to the line, “made up English stomach contents tied to senseless notions.”
Most moving was the album’s closing track, “Grand Canyon,” dedicated to the band’s former employee, Craig Lieske, who was a constant presence at DBT shows over the years, manning their merchandise table. Hood described how Lieske knew several of the fans by name and was the group’s conduit to their audiences at shows. Craig Lieske died last year of a heart attack, and Hood explained that it happened a day after Craig Lieske’s band had opened for the Truckers. Hood spoke movingly about how hard it was to be near the bunk reserved for their friend on the tour bus, and that story added weight to the “Grand Canyon” lyric, “I wonder how a life so sturdy could just one day cease to be.”
After performing most of the new album, Cooley and Hood pulled out a few older tunes: 1998’s “Panties In Your Purse” and “The Living Bubba,” and 2003’s “Heathens.”
English Oceans is out Tuesday. The Drive-By Truckers (which along with Cooley and Hood also includes long-time drummer Brad Morgan, keyboardist Jay Gonzalez and new bass player Matt Patton) kick off a tour March 14 at the Ritz in Raleigh, North Carolina.