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Tryptophan Fest at Mulligan's
North Mississippi Allstars, Drive By Truckers at The Tabernacle
Thanksgiving 2004

Tryptophan Fest

North Mississippi Allstars, Drive By Truckers
The Tabernacle

Saturday we headed to The Tabernacle in the chilly evening air. Inside the weather wasn’t much better in the lobby area, but once we squeezed into the auditorium it was the exact opposite. Remember back when places had a coat check where you could dump your heavy armor and relax in comfort? I think central heat and A/C has changed that, but some places still need such a service, The Tabernacle probably worse than others.

North Mississippi Allstars were already on stage with the addition of a couple of marching-band-style drummers, perhaps a salute to fife and drum music sans fife. The extra percussion added a little somethin’, but mostly I couldn’t stop thinking of the Alman Brothers.

They brought out Jason Isbell from Drive By Truckers for an even-more-Alman-esque jam session. I didn't recognize Jason at first, he'd lost so much weight. Talented guitarist, but I should'a known the jams would go on too long when I noticed the bass player was wielding the dreaded 5 string.

They wrapped up their set with the drummer stepping out to play a washboard hooked to a wa-wa pedal, distortion box and maybe another effect or two thrown in there. It made for a really interesting sound, perhaps my favorite "tune" of their set.

Other degenerates enjoyed it, but them white boys tend to ruin the blues with guitar ramblings, sans soul. Could’a been great at Northside Tavern with cheap whiskey and a place to sit. But I was already annoyed at the drink prices at the bar. Thankfully, we picked up free tickets (big thanks to degenerate AT) but the $20 cover we didn’t pay wouldn’t have bought three beers inside.

And the size of the place bothers me. This kind of music works best in intimate settings, not the massive cavern of The Tabernacle. You might say it’s not as big as Phillips Enormo-dome or whatever, but compare to “the pint-sized Star Bar”, as the Loafing put it, The Tabernacle might as well be Music Midtown.

So by the time Drive By Truckers came on I was already grumbling. I managed to squeeze my way halfway down the floor, center stage, what I thought would be a good spot - not so close as to be crushed like a sardine, but close enough to see the band. But it turns out that’s the worst spot for sound in the building. The speaker stacks all point to the back and balconies and you’re not close enough to pick up the sound from the monitors. The vocals were completely lost, which is half the reason to listen to a DBT song.

As they spread out across the stage, the size of the Tabernacle seemed to grow even further. There's something sterile about having the band members separated by tens of feet instead of bouncing off each other in a sweaty heap on a tiny stage.

They played a lot of numbers off their new record, mixed in with a few classics.

Half the crowd really enjoyed the set, the other half the crowd were obviously dragged there by their boyfriends, had free tickets, or were there just because they see the show plastered all over the Loafing and/or Access Atlanta. That half the crowd looked like they would’ve been more comfortable at The Compound a couple of miles away. I was reminded of the time SW and I went to a fantastic collection of Cajun, Zydeco and blues groups performing at The Rialto where the season ticket holder sitting next to us listened to the Braves game on his headphones while his wife knitted in the next seat. Fuck, if you're not gonna pay attention to the show give me the money you paid for admission and Heineken and I'll buy you a 12 pack and you can stay home, you wastes of space!

I only spotted a few longtime fans, but in a crowd of that size everyone I know could've been there and been easily missed.

Whoever was handling the lighting really knew their stuff. It was subdued when it needed to be, blaring when it needed to be, but not too flashy or overdone. You need some kind of light show or pyro or something in a place this big for a group like DBT. In a smaller venue you get the intimacy and the personality of the band up-close. But in a bigger place they're not much to look at. It's more about the music than the spectacle. Personally, I prefer musical ability over stage presence (I'll take Gargantua over KISS any day of the week.)
Patterson had a few moments where he connected with the audience, step out from behind the mike (set too far back from the crowd.)
Mike Cooley frequently stepped up to the edge of the stage for a spotlit guitar solo, joined once by Jason.

I had three or four beers, wiping out my drinking budget for the month, and next thing I knew DBT called it a night relatively early compared to other shows I’ve seen of theirs.

What’s worse, the frustration of missing a show or the disappointment of seeing a bad one? Both are about missed potential. I’m not saying DBT doesn’t deserve the attention, the larger venues, the exposure to new and different audiences, but as one of their earliest fans I felt entitled to a better show, better sound, perhaps a VIP spot up close. Of course, that sense of entitlement is one of the many things rock and roll is supposed to rebel against, so I tried to relax and enjoy the show. All was almost forgiven when they sang The Living Bubba or Lookout Mountain.

If only half that crowd hadn’t reminded me of the banker DBT sing about burying down in the old sinkhole…

So next time you hear about the Truckers doing a show at a smaller club let us know. I won’t be returning to The Tabernacle for them or anyone else anytime soon.

Tryptophan Fest

North Mississippi Allstars, Drive By Truckers
The Tabernacle

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