Patterson Hood finished off his two-night stand at The State Room Saturday night with a show that captured everything that makes him one of the most engaging American songwriters and performers of the past two decades.
Mixing songs from his solo albums, Drive-by Truckers' tunes from his back catalog, and brand new, yet-to-be-recorded works being performed for an audience for the first time, Hood turned his simple man-with-an-acoustic-guitar approach into a show as entertaining as an electrified Truckers gig. And the between-song banter and storytelling, as always, provided essential humor and emotion to the evening.
Saturday's show seemed looser than Friday's; at various points, Hood described the ribald proceedings as a concert version of the Smokey and the Bandit plot, "when Burt is off in the country, WAY off the road, and all hell's breaking loose." With boozed-up Truckers fans demanding to hear old favorites, Hood managed to satisfy them while still delivering plenty of his solo stuff along the way. He seemed to enjoy the challenge, bringing a bottle of tequila on stage and sharing shots with some of the front-row fans around mid-show.
Remarkably, Hood was able to refocus the entire room shortly after the boozy interlude with an emotional performance of the Truckers' "Tornadoes," followed by a beautiful new song called "Grand Canyon" that he wrote after the death of his long-time friend and Truckers' merch guru Craig Lieske in January. Hood introduced the song by telling the crowd about Lieske's life and sudden death, noting that the only time he'd played it was at Lieske's funeral.
Those two songs provided the emotional high point of a show that was strong from the start. Hood opened with "Depression Era," a song he wrote for 2009 indie flick That Evening Sun. "Leaving Time" from his new Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance followed, along with another solo tune, "Pollyanna."
Hood's first new songs of the night one he also performed Friday. On Saturday, he dedicated "If I Was Jimmy Page" to the folks from The Heavy Metal Shop, where he did a meet-and-greet earlier in the day. The song is hilarious, and Hood introduced it with a story about going to see Led Zeppelin flick The Song Remains the Same at a midnight movie with his dad back in the '70s. Hood loved it, of course, and the memories seared in his mind make up great one-liners through the tune, each starting with "If I was Jimmy Page," as in, "If I was Jimmy Page, I'd woo you with my voodoo." Or, "I'd do cocaine off hooker's asses." Or, "I'd wear those dragon pants EVERYWHERE." You get the idea.
Hood described the Jimmy Page tune as a contender for the next Drive-by Truckers album, as long as his co-conspirator Mike Cooley approves. He followed it with a song he was performing for an audience for the first time, "Grandpa Rock City," another funny song that he introduced by mulling over the merits of old rockers who continue taking their shirts off well into their later years. (The Hood verdict? Okay if you're Iggy Pop, but not if you'r Roger Daltrey.)
Among the other highlights Saturday night: a take on his Truckers' song "Goode's Field Road," a massive singalong to Truckers' oldie "Steve McQueen," the title track of Heat Lightning in the Distance, a killer version of the Truckers' "Sinkhole," "The Buford Stick" and "Better Than the Truth" from Heat Lightning.
Hood mentioned wanting to bring the Drive-by Truckers to The State Room to "blow the doors off the place." That's something I'd love to see. But it says a lot that Hood was able to deliver a consistently excellent show with just an acoustic guitar, a microphone and a stool. Oh, and that bottle of Patron didn't hurt.