Rock & Roll Means Well with the Hold Steady and the Drive By Truckers; November 14, 2008; Riviera Theater
The pairing made perfect sense, but at the same time made no sense. After all, the Hold Steady and the Drive By Truckers are both permanent residents on my Greatest Live Band on the Planet list, and both are certainly members of a mutual admiration club. Despite those facts, there doesn’t seem to be any overlap between their fan base. We figured that in the Venn diagram of their fans, quite possibly the only folks in that overlapping section were the three people in this car. In that respect the show offered a perfect opportunity to introduce one band's fans to the others.
While both bands are undeniably terrific on their own, the possibilities for the encore were what made this a must see. We were not disappointed. Following their set the Hold Steady returned almost immediately with Truckers leader Patterson Hood right behind them, stepping up to the mike to sing backing vocals on their ridiculously catchy “Your Little Hoodrat Friend.” For the next number Truckers bassist Shonna Tucker emerged from backstage to play the part of Elizabeth Elmore to Patterson’s Dave Pirner on the one of the greatest duets ever “Chill Out Tent.” It should have been great, it wasn’t- Shonna’s vocals were barely audible and what I could hear didn’t sound great, but it didn’t matter. What did matter was the infectious enthusiasm evident in everyone on stage.
Members of DBT kept appearing; drummer Easy B shared the drum riser with Bobby before moving to his own mini kit stage left. The Stoker Ace Mike Cooley traded wicked guitar licks with Tad Kubley (making their side “the hottest side of the stage” according to a friend. Agreed.). Shonna also picked up a guitar, which with DBT’s John Neff, brought the total to six guitars and one bass on stage at once, ah, the bliss. The hits kept coming too, a cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burning For You” (awesome!) and AC/DC’s “Ride On,” before the Truckers pulled out their traditional closer, the rock anthem “Let There Be Rock.” Truer words have never been spoken. As the bands moved back stage and the ROCK AND ROLL MEANS WELL banner disappeared back into the ceiling, you had to suspect that the biggest party yet was about to happen.
What made the whole night even more remarkable was that both bands had turned in killer performances on their own. I felt like the Hold Steady’s last Madison appearance had been a little lackluster, falling well below the impossible bar they had set for themselves. Tonight the caught fire all over again, and I could feel it even though I was miles away from the band (having retreated to the balcony) in a way I couldn’t standing twelve feet in front of them at the Majestic. Lead singer and guitar holder Craig Finn felt the need to apologize after a particularly aggressive version of “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night,” a song that used to be part of every live set but hadn’t made an appearance lately. “But it wasn’t like that tonight,” he claimed, “you guys were amazing.”
The Truckers put on a show of their own, though it seemed like they were just getting warmed up when their short set (by their standards) came to an end, but favorites like “Sinkhole” still sizzled. Patterson was on all night starting with opener “Bulldozers and Dirt” through the Southern Rock Opera rocker “Ronnie and Neil,” both seldom played and therefore an extra treat. Cooley on the other hand seemed a little out of it, and he stumbled several times during “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” which I’d never seen before. It seemed the Hold Steady fans didn’t quite know what to make of the Truckers. They hung back during their set only to make a move for the stage after they were done, precipitating our retreat. Hopefully by the end of the night both bands picked up a lot of new fans.