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Avalon, Hollywood
Tuesday, Feb. 12

The Drive-By Truckers are back on the road again and brought one of the most deeply probing and incendiary live rock shows out there to the Avalon in Hollywood on Tuesday night.

The Georgia-based band just released its eighth album, "Brighter Than Creation's Dark" (New West), and a good part of the 105-minute performance featured the new material, though the group worked in crowd favorites from various past releases.

Initially, the set was slow-burn, leading off with the melancholy "Wife Beater," dating back to their 1998 debut "Gangstabilly." Bandleader-guitarists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley traded off lead vocal spots on songs with bassist Shonna Tucker, who's holding her own as a singer-songwriter in the wake of ex-Trucker Jason Isbell's departure for solo pastures.

With founding member John Neff now returning to the fold on squealing pedal steel and a third biting electric guitar and music legend Spooner Oldham (of Muscle Shoals studio fame, like Hood's father David) on keyboards, the group was lyrical and fierce, unleashing tales of America fueled by fret firepower.

The band truly began to blaze with a reworked "Puttin' People on the Moon," the tribal tom-toms of drummer Brad Morgan driving a harrowing look at small-town unemployment struggles, a wife's cancer and one lyric changed from "Reagan in the White House" to Bush. That's what the Truckers are all about: real songs about real people that the current for-the-rich-only administration has ignored as those lives go further down the social toilet.

Where Hood often is the band's storyteller-poet and balladeer, Cooley has a rocker's heart, cutting loose for songs that included the swaggering "Marry Me" and spun some tales himself, like the saloon country of the new "Self-Destructive Zone."

There was the off-center profile of "Bob," who never married but isn't "light in the loafers" and takes care of his mama; a wired version of "Sinkhole" from 2003's "Decoration Day"; and the epic "Lookout Mountain" off 2004's "The Dirty South."

While the touchstones could be spotted -- lots of Neil Young and Crazy Horse-styled din-and-grind and Stonesy rockin' -- ultimately it's still a sound that's all the Truckers' own, both rich and raggedly powerful. Tipping their hat to another inspiration, the band returned for an encore of "Buttholeville," from their debut, shifting into a blistering version of Bruce Springsteen's paranoia-drenched "State Trooper."

In a world of real justice, the Drive-By Truckers would at least be headlining a Gibson Amphitheater-size venue. But calculated pandering rules the mainstream, and this brilliant rough-'n'-tumble outfit bravely travels the alternate highways as perhaps the best rock band in America right now.

The bill also featured the Truckers' longtime buds North Mississippi Allstars and the Felice Brothers.
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