Signs posted around the Madrid Theater on Saturday informed the crowd that it would be seeing an “intimate show” from the Drive-By Truckers and that respect for the band and one another would be appreciated.
True, the show was a sit-down affair: Rows of folding chairs filled the floor of the theater, and there were chairs onstage, too, which is where the five members of the band took perches just a few minutes after 8 p.m.
Apparently, “intimate” was a euphemism for “acoustic” or “unplugged.” This wasn’t a typical DBT show, filled with noisy, crashing electric guitars and all kinds of loud, unkempt Southern rock and soul. But it was the usual showcase of great songwriting and musicianship, all stripped down to light percussion, acoustic guitars, banjo and keyboards. It laid bare the charms of their songwriting, which can get lost in heavier rock arrangements.
And the room was smaller than a typical DBT venue. The last time they were in town, they played at Crossroads KC.
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The set list was arranged as a back-and-forth between Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, the band’s two songwriters. The setup nicely demonstrated the differences in their songwriting and vocal styles. Hood is a songwriter who favors gothic narratives and cautionary tales, some of them true crime stories; Cooley makes his points more directly and observationally.
They opened with one of Hood’s songs, “The Flying Wallendas,” a tribute to the family of circus aerialists, some of whom lived next to Hood’s grandmother. They then swapped new songs, first Cooley’s “Flight 219 to Denver,” then Hood’s “Tough to Let Go.” As Cooley started “Women Without Whiskey,” several audience members unleashed whoops and hollers of approval. They wouldn’t be the last.
Early on, Hood congratulated the crowd for being so attentive, unlike the crowd the night before (in Columbia). For the most part, the crowd was respectful, though there were plenty of conversations going on toward the back of the room by the bar. The sound was good throughout, though there were times when Cooley’s lyrics were hard to discern. That had as much to do with his heavy drawl as the sound mix.
After “Whiskey,” Hood dedicated “I Do Believe” to Percy Sledge, who died Tuesday. Later, he covered Sledge’s “Take Time to Know Her” and dedicated it to his father, David Hood, a Muscle Shoals musician who had played with Sledge (and others) for years and who is now on tour with the Waterboys.
Most of the crowd of about 500 seemed familiar with nearly every song. Some songs prompted louder ovations than others, like Cooley’s “Self-Destructive Zones,” followed by “Heathens,” a Hood ballad from the breakthrough “Decoration Day” album that aroused an even louder roar and singalong. Cooley played banjo on that one, as he would on a few others.
The rest of the band provided steady backup, none more than Jay Gonzalez, who added some exquisite Hammond B3 on several songs, most conspicuously on “72 (This Highway’s Mean).” There was a lull or two during the folky tunes, like Cooley’s “Cottonseed.” But there were plenty of other highlights. “My Sweet Annette,” Hood’s tale of a guy who leaves his bride for her best friend, “Daddy Needs a Drink” and “The Sands of Iwo Jima” were among them.
Hood thanked the crowd several times for its rowdy enthusiasm. The band showed its gratitude during the encore, which included “Grand Canyon,” an elegy for a friend and longtime member of their touring clan. They brought it home with two rip-snorting Southern rock anthems: “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy,” then “Shut Up and Get on the Plane,” both of which brought many in the crowd to their feet. Some danced; most sang along. They sustained that momentum with the finale, a cover of the Faces’ “Ooh La La,” bringing to a close a night that was as invigorating as it was intimate.
The Flying Wallendas; Flight 219 to Denver; Tough to Let Go; Women Without Whiskey; I Do Believe; 72 (This Highway's Mean); My Sweet Annette; Self-Destructive Zones; Heathens; Checkout Time in Vegas; Monument Valley; Loaded Gun in the Closet; The Sands of Iwo Jima; Made Up English Oceans; Daddy Needs a Drink; Ghost to Most; Take Time to Know Her (Percy Sledge cover); Cottonseed; What It Means (new Hood). Encore: Space City; Grand Canyon; Zip City; Hell No, I Ain't Happy; Shut Up and Get on the Plane; Ooh La La (Faces cover).