Drive-By Truckers + The Heartless Bastards @ The Commodore Ballroom – March 11th 2011

On Friday night the Commodore Ballroom played host to the country rockers known as the Drive-By Truckers. Opening the stage for them was Heartless Bastards from Ohio. The two groups were on the ball and played impassioned sets, if only the technical side of things didn’t pull the charisma out of the performance and dull the end product.

Some of the attendees were country lovers, with appropriate cowboy attire, some were punks, with their tattered shirts and patch-adorned denim and others were just fresh, young concert goers, full of piss and vinegar. It was an exciting crowd, and the single thing they all shared was this one single night; the anticipation was pouring over.

As the first band entered the stage, the slow swagger of Ms. Erika Wennestrom to the microphone, gathered many stares. Her blond radiant glow was highlighted by the acoustic sun-burst guitar slung across her nape. Right off the bat the technical troubles started to swallow the performance. The vocal track was inaudible, the drums were way too light bu only the guitar tracks were clearly present. The people in attendance started to shout out, “Hey! We can’t here the vocals, turn them up!”.

The frustration was evident on the faces of the band. The singer, kept pointing to her audio receiver and signaling she was hearing nothing emitting from it. By the time they were able to save the mixing, the group was nearly half way through their set. I was right up front, and lucky enough to hear the instruments without having to use the house feed. The eloquent delivery by Wennestrom was powerful. She has a very unique tone to her voice, almost Patsy Cline’ish. A delicate vulnerability that pulls you in. The rest of the band were solid, but without Erika they wouldn’t have the same charisma. Heartless Bastards are a tasty treat, that deserve your undivided attention.

In between acts it was a mad dash to relieve the bladder and replenish the drink. Without too much of a wait the headliners took to the platform. As the six piece stood before the crowd, the lights lit, but just barely. Two boards cut to look like stained glass and painted with neon pigments, were lit by black lights. It was a dark setting. As the band eased into their set, it slowly infected the room with a contagious rhythm

Patterson Hood has this consumed nature on stage. He closes his eyes and sings from the heart, with a look reminiscent of Eddie Vedder or Jim James. His bearded face, glowing with sweat as the spittle on his lip projected off each vowel. Mike Cooley, has a different demeanor when he projects his vocals. He is calm and cool, and offers up a delicate reprise. The juxtaposition of the two makes for a great feel and amps up the atmosphere. Of the rest of the band, the curious Shonna Tucker, truly caught my attention. She lingered in the shadows like a quiet stalker, strumming her bass with an effortless sweep. These three focal points made for a great visual. As the rest of the band filled in the musical integrity of the songs, with precision and interconnectivity.

The technical issues that affected the opening band, were also present on the mixing of the main acts performance. From time to time the oral projections were faint and weak, but it was not for a lack of the artists efforts. This muddy feeling, really drowned out portions of the performance, but most of the audience seemed unaware. They rocked, and they cheered, and they raised their glasses; as the group from Athens, Georgia, played with love and spirit.

The issues of with the mixing really drained my ability to enjoy the show. You could see the effort and you could feel the enthusiasm, but it was not coming together, through those speakers. Those on the floor, stood before the band and cheered, harmonizing with many songs. The enthusiasm of the crowd, and their bellowing contributions, covered over the technical issues. Giving each song enough glaze that is dampened the imperfections, to a level that was enjoyable by most.

I will wait and see what the next live show produces, the next time these good ol’ boys are in town. But until then I will settle with having to give them a passing grade, it was not amazing, but at the same time, it was not horrible. The Drive-By Truckers, made up in effort, what the audio engineer pulled out of them in the mixing. We know this band can rock, but on this fateful night, the cards were stacked against them.

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