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  Star Bar  
  Little Five Points, Atlanta, GA  
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I don't often go to see the same band twice (or more) close together; as much as I love live music, I don't normally find comparing setlists and nuances that interesting. But occasionally things happen and people come to town and you suddenly find yourself going to the same show you went to the week before. And that's what happened with The Drive-By Truckers: the played different bars in Atlanta on two sequential Fridays. Since in my mind, these shows run together (to some extent), I've decided to write two linked (and related) reviews.

First off, I'll state up front: I like The Drive-By Truckers. I don't think they're incredibly innovative, but I don't think they sound exactly like some of their influences. I see creativity and cleverness in the songwriting, and I like straight up rock-n-roll. I also think they know how to put on a live show -- pulling the audience in and yanking them along on waves of music and liquor. So, if you don't buy into these preconceptions (like certain of the minions), my opinions aren't going to make sense. That's not a problem, but maybe you ought to move along to another review?

But before I can talk about The Drive-By Truckers on that night, I should probably discuss the opening band: Bully. Like many Atlanta bands, I'd seen them before; I'd even liked them enough to buy their first self-produced EP, filled with angry satirical rock songs about failed relationships and the occasional gun. What I didn't know was that their drummer is also the drummer of one of my favorite Atlanta bands, American Dream. Learning this, I was really interesting in seeing how his drumming (which seems so essential and laidback) would blend in with the hard rocking Bully.

I have a long standing Theorem of Drumming: you can recognize the styles of most good drummers with you eyes closed no matter who or what they are accompanying. And this was no exception -- despite the differences in musical styles, Eric Young sounded much the same as I'd heard on other nights.

And Bully sounded much the same as I remembered. The songs were still loud and long, with the occasional guitar solo poking through. And despite occasional problems with the harmonies, singer/guitarist Joel Burkhart's voice still had the same gravelly resonance that always reminds me of Tom Waits. Still, the highlight was the middle part of the set, when the band was joined on stage by Shannon Tanner, who sang duets with Joel for several songs. Her higher harmonies blended with Joel's low voice and offset the occasional hard edge. It was a slow change of pace and direction for this band, but one which seems natural and good. Not bad for a band that doesn't play out that regularly.

After Bully's long set, The Drive-By Truckers took the stage. From the first, it was apparent that this was not going to be one of their best shows. Maybe it was too much liquor, but the band didn't seem entirely present at The Star Bar -- they were missing transitions, dropping choruses, and forgetting lyrics left and right. And unlike some other bands, when one of the Trucker's messed up, it would show in the confusion that would play across the other musicians' faces.

The setlist, on the other hand, seemed fairly solid. Rooted in the older stuff found on their first two albums, this set didn't emphasize the material that's going to be on their upcoming release, the now ubiquitous Betamax Guillotine, a southern rock opera that the band's been talking about for at least 2 ½ years. Rather, some of the space on the setlist was taken up by really new songs that represent a return to form for the Truckers: songs that are sardonic and educated and ultimately funny.

Towards the end of their set, the band seemed to gain their footing. The little miscues seemed to fade away, and everyone seemed focused on playing hard. This can be best shown by their choice of ultimate encore: the ritual of People Who Died. It was loud and bouncing and obnoxious, and it may have been the best played song of the evening. After they stopped playing (and the ringing in my ears started to subside), I was well-pleased. Rationally, however, I can't say it was a great (or even particularly good) show - the band was out of sync and unfocused and it showed. Things turned out as well as they did for two reasons: their talent, and taht they play lots of live shows.

The show left me wanting to see them again, if only to see them play the type of show I know they can. For that reason, I left The Star Bar already looking forward to seeing the Truckers the next Friday.

Go ahead and read that review now.

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