Drive By Truckers w/ Erika Wennerstrom
@ The Mod Club Theatre, Toronto
April 3, 2018
There is a leather box. It looks vintage, and it is empty and wide open on the side of a planter. Then there is a single playing card, a King, all alone. No one steps on it but no one picks it up either. It is just there until the wind strikes again on this particularly windy pseudo-Spring day. Going to Toronto’s Mod Club is always a good experience, and to me, it usually begins with these random mystic messages that I will never be able to interpret.
Erika Wennerstrom of Heartless Bastards comes on stage, and even if the crowd is somewhat small at this juncture, they are all receptive of her solo project, this is her first time in Toronto promoting it and the result is a magnificent set. From the very start, I danced. The music was intoxicating, the band is so good together, you can see them interact and you can hear the great music that comes from those interactions and camaraderie.
Erika is not only talented, she is ever so charming when she introduces the song “Like a bird”. She mutters something about doing psychedelics in the Amazon forest. I giggle and file it under things that I might like to do. This song has powerful lyrics, like the rest of her solo debut; they are songs of healing and looking forward to the good times:
“All these waves of emotion have taken over me
A new sense of elation for a time that’s past and gone
All this self protection built a wall inside of me
I’m gonna open up and let the good things come”
“Be Good to Yourself” is another beautiful song about the struggles many of us – one could even say all of us — have been quite familiar with. The album is so empathetic and the music is just so great, listening to the songs live is an enlightening experience.
“Letting Go”, which is, in her words, something that she should do more often, was enchanting, building up and up an extraordinary, haunting sound, and the lyrics in this one are, again, powerful words of advice:
“I’ve been spending a lot of time alone
And I don’t mind because this time has shown me
The world can take me as I am
So deeply flawed and loving kind”
The set ends with a “Paint it black” which was taken to darker depths. A fan who got the setlist requested “The Mountain” by the Heartless Bastards, but they were packed by then. I am excited for Erika Wennerstrom’s solo project and all the songs and dancing to come.
During the intermission, The Mod Club was already full to capacity, at first, I had not even noticed, there was such a general vibe of friendship. A woman complimented the feathers in my hair, I complimented her Rodriguez t-shirt and we began talking about how Rodriguez feels the essence of life with his heart. We spoke of Omemee, Ontario and Neil Young. Besides me, there was a young woman, aged 19, who told me that she had been waiting for so very long to see Drive-By Truckers, and that her mother had taken her to this show and the excitement was palpable, I had never seen someone so happy in anticipation of live music before.
Before they came on stage, in the piano there’s a sign ‘’Black Lives Matter’’, it is meaningful, direct, and so important, for musicians to make a political stand these days – and any day before us, and every day after us. It sent chills down my spine to be faced with that sign. Because it is not a fleeting fad, it is a human problem that should be addressed, even when the band is playing and the crowd is dancing, somewhat hypnotized.
I had invited a friend to come along with me, but he refused, alleging that he was not a big of a fan of Drive-By Truckers, a few songs into the set, with all the energy of the band and audience lifting everyone’s spirits, I knew that had my friend come along, he would have been instantly converted into a new fan. The sense of community was so intense, and that is not something that one can witness in many shows these days, in which individualism and the satisfying glow of cell phone screens prevails.
The 19-year-old beside me, who like me is seeing them for the first time and we are jumping and screaming and we are all so happy. This is a celebration, no doubt about it, and the sobering sign of “Black Lives Matter” is a reminder of the fact that while we celebrate music, there is a world outside that needs our love and attention and involvement.
Two of the Truckers pass to each other a plastic jug of some clear liquid, which seems to be too thick to be water and in my heart I am daydreaming it is moonshine, and the music teleports me to my first moonshine, many years ago, somewhere in Kentucky inside a trailer filled with folk musicians. People shout song names between silences, the songs keep pouring, the guitars keep on being replaced with another, and another, and another, and someone says, jokingly “Do you think they have enough guitars?”, and the answer to that is that there aren’t enough guitars, ever.
Mod Club is sold out, Drive-By Truckers are playing their poetic songs, I am on cloud nine paying attention to their lyrics with this new found immediateness, and swimming in the virtuosity of each individual musician and the sound that they create together. Many persons attended the two back to back shows they honoured Toronto with, the energy is intense, it is night time, terribly windy outside, we are under a roof, however, it feels as if we were in a backyard and the sun is gracing us with its healing presence and the life it brings.
(Photography by Susana Meza)