A friend of mine blew out his hearing at a Kinks show 20 years ago. My left ear is still wondering whether the Drive-by Truckers' ACL Music Festival aftershow will go down in similar infamy. Seems the earplugs in my pocket never had a chance against the promise of three guitars.
Three guitars. Who has three guitars anymore -- and knows how to use them? Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, that's who. Their band, their rules, so baby-faced third man on the Gibson SG, Jason Isbell, rules; during the DBT's two-hour burning free fall, it was Isbell's flame-retardant title cut to Decoration Day bestowing the last rites on a capacity crowd. The Athens, Ga.-based quintet roared like the bombing of Dresden before and after, but it was the steely soul of "Decoration Day" that brought the weight of Southern culture to bear on the Trucker's civil war that night.
Earlier in the day, out under the gray skies and drizzling gloom of Zilker Park, the band leveraged most of the new album with Hood's shit-eating grin and true grit. Round midnight, Decoration Day's seething "Sink Hole" was the only notable repeat, the white hot intensity of the late show proving without question that the afternoon matinee had been just that.
Equally unrelenting were the catalog stand-outs not in evidence at the DBT's ACL set, nor recalled from their opening gig for the Gourds at Stubb's back in August: "Bulldozers and Dirt," "The Living Bubba," and "Why Henry Drinks," all off the band's first two discs, 1998's Gangstabilly and '99's Pizza Deliverance. The former's sainted "Steve McQueen" ("coolest goddamn motherfucker on the silver screen") was like The Getaway ("Alec Baldwin sucked in the remake") set to guitars rather than shotguns. Blasting one round after another after another after another, the band was murderous, Southern Rock Opera's classic rock confession, "Let There Be Rock," ending the main set like "Taps" through 1,000-watt Marshall stacks.
Nothing, however, could compare to the final encore, a blinding cover of Jim Carroll's "People Who Died." Patterson Hood, whose ear-to-door smile threatened to black out Sixth Street with sheer wattage, glowed with a fever stoked by the oil fires that preceded the punk rock anthem. As Hood's Cheshire high beam leered out over the lip of the stage, all three guitarists bending strings in symphonic frenzy, a delirious audience screamed the chorus right back at him and pumped their fists in the air as if fascism had gripped the Mercury. My ear died for those folks' sins.