In 2016, the Drive-By Truckers released “Ramon Casiano,” a protest song about the unsolved 1931 murder of a Mexican immigrant. The song sparked counter protests from the expected corners of our polarized country – and that wasn’t the end of it. When the full album, American Band, was released a few months later, with "Ramon Casiano” prominently positioned as the opening track, the cover art featured a black-and-white photo of Old Glory flying at half-mast. Other songs on the album – “Darkened Flags On The Cusp Of Dawn, “Kinky Hypocrite,” “Ever South,” “Surrender Under Protest” – fleshed out the full-throated protest against injustice, hypocrisy and bigotry. By the time the reactionary noise against them had died away, Drive-By Truckers were no longer merely a Southern rock band with roots in Athens, Georgia, by way of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, they were taking a stand.

Two years and untold political and moral desecrations later, who could have predicted just how important this band and the album would become? By the time Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and company arrived at the Brooklyn Bowl last night for the first of two shows, they were met by a house full of fans ready for their brand of guitar-driven rock for thinking people. There was nothing subtle about it and DBT took no prisoners.

If Hood’s high-pitched vocals go to Neil Young range at times, so too do Matt Patton on bass and Brad Morgan on drums lock into Crazy Horse-like rhythms. Beyond the important messages delivered in their smart songwriting, at the same time there’s a lot of fun in the Drive-By Truckers' music. Cooley’s squealing guitar solos anchor the song breaks, and his voice blends with Hood’s to give hints of long-gone Uncle Tupelo. DBT can be as punky as Mirror Ball-era Neil and as folky-wordy as vintage Dylan. They have a drummer who looks like a member of The Band, circa Big Pink, a bass player styled like Bruce Palmer of Buffalo Springfield, not to mention the son of one of the fabled Swampers of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section fame as one of their co-front men, picking and grinning and giving off a good-time vibe.

From their 2001 debut,Southern Rock Opera, to “My Sweet Annette,” the hit song off their 2003 album, Decoration Day, to “Ramon Casiano,” DBT has evolved from a good-time roadhouse crew to one of the most important working bands in the land. A terrific new tune, “The Perilous Night,” showcased the fruits of that growth and suggested even greater success ahead.

Opening last night for the Drive-By Truckers at Brooklyn Bowl, Erika Wennerstrom, a long-time friend of the Truckers, kicked off a spring tour timed with the release of Sweet Unknown, her first solo album after a decade out front with the critically-acclaimed Heartless Bastards of Austin, Texas. Make no mistake: this Ohio-born singer-songwriter is much more than just another supporting act – her huge talent and emotional intelligence is going to take her beyond music industry categories. Demonstrating the reasons behind such bold prediction, Wennerstrom and an ace touring band played the mindful and soulful Sweet Unknown in its entirety for an enraptured Brooklyn audience. Among the most memorable songs of the set was the album’s second track, “Extraordinary Love,” which has been receiving airplay on college radio. Wennerstrom describes it as “a mantra of self love” that tells the story of when she “went down to the Amazon jungle at a point where I was deeply unhappy and decided to do an Ayahuasca retreat. The song is the realization [that] I do everything in my life for love.” Possessed of a big husky voice, Wennerstrom soars over stately Pink Floydian tempos and the lush, dream atmospheres built by her superb band. There's occasionally some country twang in the mix, as on the Townes van Zandt cover she sang, and she even shows off an old girl group effect by separating lyrical syllables like a latter-day Ronnie Spector. Live and on Sweet Unknown, Erika Wennerstrom is a major talent - do yourself a favor and check her out.

Drive-By Truckers and Erika Wennerstrom do it again tonight (3/30) at Brooklyn Bowl. Advance tickets are sold out but there will be limited tickets at doors (which open at 6 PM). Check out photos from Thursday's show in the gallery above and Drive-By Truckers' setlist is below.

SETLIST: Drive-By Truckers @ Brooklyn Bowl 3/29/2019 (via)
Zip City
Heroin Again
Filthy and Fried
Righteous Path
Ramon Casiano
Darkened Flags On The Cusp Of Dawn
Sounds Better in the Song
The Living Bubba
3 Dimes Down
Sink Hole
Slow Ride Argument
The Perilous Night
Kinky Hypocrite
The KKK Took My Baby Away (Ramones)
Do It Yourself
When the Pin Hits the Shell
Ronnie and Neil
Women Without Whiskey
When the Levee Breaks
What It Means
Surrender Under Protest
Let There Be Rock
Shut Up and Get on the Plane
Angels and Fuselage

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photos by Lou Montesano