As Drive-By Truckers take the stage to wild cries and whistles from the audience, there are two handles of Jack on each side of the stage and just about as much in the front row. By the end of the night, there will be broken glass in the pit, empty bottles on stage, and an epic dose of the Dirty South thrown down on the Pageant.
In a sprawling, nearly 30-song set, fueled by Tennessee whiskey and the crowd's open love for the band, the Trucker's intensity grew from a slow smolder to an incendiary assault.
The Southern rockers brought their signature triple-guitar attack, anchored by Mike “The Stroker Ace” Cooley's combination of ice-man cool and face-melting riffs. There's something one has to respect when a man can bring the searing guitar-love while carefully cultivating an inch of ash on the tip of his Marlboro.
In this respect, frontman Patterson Hood was Cooley's perfect foil. In contrast to his partner-in-crime, Hood is a visceral force on stage, taking a swing at his demons with every guttural growl and raw intonation. While Cooley seemed to prefer playing back from the stage, Hood came to the front with obvious relish, playing out over the crowd, going vertical, and generally showing off his guitar-face.
John Neff, often switching from third guitar to pedal steel, quietly laid a slow heat throughout the set, neither seeming to save his energy nor burn it out in fits. Rather, Neff was more content to follow Cooley's lead that slow and steady wins the race, and let his steel guitar sing with patient and confident care.
Shonna Tucker's sweet soul bass playing and Brad “EZB” Morgan's tight reign on drums drove the band's freight-steady beat tirelessly through the night.
By the end of the set, Patterson Hood was falling to his knees with a bottle of old Number 7 in one hand and microphone in the other. When not partaking himself, the imposing frontman alternated between thrusting the bottle into the crowd and pulling it back, only to pass it along to the next imbiber eager for a taste of rock ‘n roll.
The monumental, 26-song set touched on nearly all of their eight-album discography, featuring a heavy mix from Brighter Than Creation's Dark (2008) as well as DBT's definitive Southern Rock Opera (2001).
If you want to download the full set, you can grab the live recording as a bittorrent file here.
When I showed up to the venue, I was informed there was no photo pass, since the band has an open photo policy. The pit was tight, but the open policy meant that I could also shoot for the entire set, which more than made up for the tight quarters up front.
With three-songs being the standard limit, being able to photograph the entire set made a huge difference in approach and, ultimately, in the quality and number of keeper images from the Trucker's performance.
If you look at images from this set and that of the Dresden Dolls, who also have an open camera policy, I think it's an easily corollary that more time in the pit results in the opportunity to make better images.
On stage, Patterson Hood took the center of the stage, flanked by guitarist John Neff on his right and bassist Shonna Tucker on his left, while Mike Cooley played far stage left.
Drummer Brad Morgan played on a short riser with a keen eye on the rest of the band, and even on the large stage, the group dynamic still felt tight.
Which I believe roughly corresponds to me making an image like this:
Lighting & Effects:
Just like the intensity of the performance itself, the lighting for this show started off solid and respectable before it grew into the bombastic bright white light of the finale.
While the concert lighting went through half a dozen different schemes, the most dominant expression was white light in some form, whether it was high, weak light from the front, stronger accenting from behind, or the flood that came at the end of the show.
Red and blue washes were used in a few songs, but luckily these monochromatic schemes were few and far between.
For atmospherics, I think the water hazers were kept at a perfect level for this show, still giving the large stage some accents of character while not overwhelming the understated lighting.
Lenses & Gear:
I used the Nikon D3 with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 for the majority of this set. The midrange zoom did a great job for all the standard shots, particularly for Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley.
In addition, I used the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, which was great for picking up drummer Brad Morgan, bassist Shonna Tucker, and guitarist John Neff, all of whom played back from the stage.
Due to the luxury of shooting the entire set, I also had the opportunity to use the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 and try some ultra-wide shots of the band.
As the band loosened up over the course of the performance, the three guitarists made more and more frequent trips to the front of the stage, which provided the perfect opportunity to get in their face with the ultra-wide lens.
In particular, Hood was a great subject for the lens. The only downside to the otherwise great Pageant venue is the relatively high stage, which puts a lot of distance between a subject and the viewer unless one is right up close, so I try to use the 14-24mm sparingly. Even still, when it pays off, it pays off.
Due to the bright backlighting, flare resistance in your lenses should be a consideration if you're working this show.
Exposure & Camera Settings:
Quite simply, the range of settings for this show were all over the place due to the wide range of lighting schemes.
During the finale's blue wash, I was at 1/20 and f/2.8 at ISO 6400 in a Hail Mary move as Patterson Hood dropped to his knees at the front of the stage.
For the brightest parts of the set, I shot around 1/200 at f/2.8 and ISO 1600, moving up to ISO 3200 during the more standard lighting schemes. The lighting wasn't technically that challenging in terms of quantity, but I was between ISO 2500 and 6400 for a good portion of the set.
In my mind, the Truckers have a short, whiskey-stained “to-do” list for every concert, and I imagine looks something like this at the end of the night:
This show was just flat-out fun to shoot. Even if you've never heard or heard of Drive-By Truckers, I urge you to check out a date near you. And if you show up early enough to snag a spot in the front, you've got a swig of Jack waiting for you, personally delivered by a Southern gentleman.
Big thanks to Brad for introducing me to Drive-By Truckers and editing the write-up.
This is what happens when you let a concert photographer shoot for two-hours and fifteen minutes instead of just three songs: