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Drive-By Truckers, Leamington Spa Assembly

I wouldn't normally begin a gig review with something totally unrelated to music, but having never visited Leamington Spa before, I feel I'd be doing our readers a disservice if I didn't mention the exquisite Indian restaurant that lies opposite the pleasant Warwickshire town's Assembly Rooms. Run by an enthusiastic, and by his own admission, rebellious chef called Shaun, we were informed that they were trying to embellish the “Indian experience” by staying true, visually and sonically, to the classic curry house style, but by absolutely blowing the menu options out of the water. And boy, do they achieve this! Everything is explained to you down to the tiniest detail, even the best way to eat and savour your meals, and it was clear just after the astonishing layered vegetarian starter, the like of which I'd never seen or tasted, that this place was something special. My main dish then achieved the seemingly impossible by being even more mouth wateringly delicious than its predecessor - and with an “all you can eat” promise thrown in for good measure! So, readers, if you ever find yourself attending a gig at The Assembly Rooms - or even just in Leamington Spa - I absolutely insist that you visit Kismet Indian restaurant, which is, without any shadow of a doubt, the greatest curry house I have ever had the good fortune to visit. Oh, and judging by the noises from the table opposite us, the tour manager of the gig I'm about to review was as impressed as we were. And he's American, so he should know value for money when he sees it!

Over to the Assembly Rooms then, where a burly looking doorman is asked by my companion if the venue were, perhaps, formerly a cinema, and responds, with surprisingly wry humour that it “looks like it was a bloody knocking shop to me”!

Up the stairs and we are met by an amicable, if slightly unkempt, looking crowd gathered amongst the blue lit haze of the hall shortly before the support act arrives on stage. I hadn't even bothered to check beforehand who would be opening for DBT, so imagine my delight when Josh T Pearson emerges to play a solo acoustic set, a man whose only outing as a band was Lift To Experience's “The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads”, surely one of the standout albums of the noughties. What instantly struck me (and surprised me) about Josh was how witty he was, not necessarily due to the tried and tested (and in some cases, shockingly old) gags he was so fond of doling out, but in the way he dealt with hecklers (a man shouted, somewhat bizarrely, “Have you got a hairy stripper?”, to which Pearson retorted “no, not on me”, and then, mischievously, “but I can get ya one!”) and in his own self mockery. For some strange reason, I expected his demeanour to be more Charles Manson than Charles Hawtrey, but it's probably fair to say he won over the entire audience - very quickly - by informing them he was about to start with a Boney M cover. Much mirth ensued, yet he went on to perform a remarkably poignant, stripped down and slowed to 33 and a third rpm version of “Rivers Of Babylon”, but not before pointing out that “I learnt it from Willie Nelson, not Boney M”. What followed was a set of confident spine-tinglers and toe-tappers before our tastebuds were tickled with a stick of dynamite.

Drive-By Truckers really were that explosive. Beginning with the stark, brooding masterpiece, “Used To be A Cop” that shines vibrantly from the excellent new album “Go-Go Boots” is enough to make you catch your breath, but when Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley launch into the squealing, reeling guitar riffery of “Where The Devil Don't Stay”, it's as though somebody has loaded their instruments with TNT and watched as they erupt. There is, indeed, a lot of mileage to be gleaned from the latter song's parent album, perhaps as an acknowledgement by the band themselves that yes, “The Dirty South” WILL probably always be remembered as their coup de grace by the majority of their fans, and you know what? They're unflinchingly PROUD of that, which is in itself something quite satisfying to see. They're not afraid to throw some “rock shapes” either, caring not one iota if the Cooley/Hood poses struck at various interludes might come across as “a bit Status Quo”. Hell no - they know they're the kings of cool up there in the limelight and bassist Shonna Tucker looks more than happy to stand there obligingly and let them get on with their own buddy movie.

Of course, the most recent offering is the next most plundered album, with the title track a standout, but also the glorious Eddie Hinton cover that is “Everybody Needs Love”, but the Truckers have a touching affiliation with ALL their fans, and just about every long player they've released received some kind of an airing, from the gritty “72 (This Highway's Mean)” and the celebratory rock of “Ronnie And Neil” from their magnum opus “Southern Rock Opera” through the straight ahead feelgood throb of “Marry Me” from the rather underappreciated “Decoration Day” which remains one of my personal favourites, through to the earlier “Buttholeville” from their debut which they blitz through at such a ferocious pace that you can't help but feel your mouth widen to a grin of Batman villain proportions.

How do they follow that, you wonder? No problem, they encore with “Zip City” and “Let There Be Rock” from the previously mentioned Lynyrd Skynyrd informed tribute, and we are all left more than satisfied. Three hours have just flown by - two of which were impeccably performed by quite possibly the greatest band that Athens, Georgia has ever seen…and yes, I AM including a certain other band in that accolade - in what seems like about fifteen minutes.

Simply staggering.

Tone E

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