Drive-By Truckers : Live from Austin, TX

dbt_livefromaustintx.jpgDrive-By Truckers’ frontman Patterson Hood preceded the release of the band’s Live from Austin City, TX DVD by writing, “It’s absolutely the best filmed performance our band has ever had.” Hood is right. The band sounds incredible, the performance is air-tight, and the players are visibly excited to be on the historic stage of the U.T. Communications Building filming an episode of Austin City Limits. But Hood’s claims are confirmed in more ways than this.

Filmed September 26, 2008, during the Brighter than Creation’s Dark tour, the performance on Live from Austin, TX illuminates a band that, despite years of struggle and a number of lineup changes, has found its place in the landscape of contemporary rock and roll. The raucous, rough, cheap guitar riffing of the early days has given way to a refined, delicate acoustic touch (“Heathens,” “Space City”), and even at full volume, recklessness is now eclipsed by polish (“The Righteous Path,” “Let There Be Rock”).

Bassist Shonna Tucker, guitarist John Neff, and pianist Jay Gonzalez are contributors to the newfound depth. Neff’s guitar and pedal steel accents blossom just below Hood’s and guitarist Mike Cooley’s electrified guitar tangle, Gonzalez’s textures bring understated beauty to the latter half of the DVD, and Tucker’s gorgeous reading of “I’m Sorry Houston” is one of the highlights of the DVD/CD set. But the show-stealer is “18 Wheels of Love,” a classic DBT track from the Gangstabilly album played with renewed vigor and an expanded story line that stretches past the 11-minute mark.

Live from Austin, TX marks an occasion when the stars aligned for the Drive-By Truckers, an increasingly common occurrence. The band in its most refined line-up yet,  an influential television show, a fired-up crowd, and a well-formed song-set all converge for the best rendering of the Truckers live show yet. Accompanied by a CD of the performance, this is over 75 minutes of music, played as it should be played, by a band that has earned its keep in this unforgiving rock-and-roll game.

Live from Austin, TX is out now on New West Records.