Hood – Isbell – Cooley reunite at the Shoals Theater

Another fabulous show review from Blake Ells! –SS

When I saw Jasper native and Drive-By Truckers bassist Matt Patton milling around the lobby at the Shoals Theater at 6:45 p.m. on Sunday, I knew this reunion would not be a full band show. And when, shortly after, I saw David Hood doing the same, I knew that it was just another night in Muscle Shoals. Both were among a collection of recognizable faces and smiles which also included Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard on hand for the Terry Pace benefit concert in Florence, an event which saw a rare gathering of Patterson Hood, Jason Isbell and Mike Cooley.

The Shoals Theater is on Seminary Street, a block away from Court, and it has stood through the most significant changes that the city has seen over the last half century. While there was Florence Alabama Music Enterprises churning out hit records, the Theater was, as Hood joked, across town showing “Pinocchio and every single Disney movie that was made.” And at some point, it was boarded up, and Hood “dreamed of making it the day he could play at the Shoals Theater.” Over the last 10 years or so, the area has been revitalized, and even though he’s already accomplished the dream, he returned for another intimate set for a worthy cause.

Just after 7 p.m., the trio took the stage while Hood shared that setup. Quickly, the “Hood – Isbell – Cooley” benefit before a room of 700 had become “Storytellers.” Hood opened by sharing stories about his first band with Cooley, Adam’s House Cat, before his first tune, “Tornadoes.” Tuscumbia native Cooley took his turn with “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac” before Greenhill native and later addition to the band Isbell performed “Decoration Day.”

“When I joined this band, I was really young,” he began. “And when you’re that young you’re not that interesting. You don’t have stories to tell. So when your parents would tell you, ‘Now, I’ll tell you this story, but you can’t tell anyone,’ those were the interesting things you wrote about. I guess I could have changed the names,” he laughed.

The rotation continued for the duration. For nearly three hours, the trio swapped stories and shared their songs. Isbell dedicated “Outfit” to his father, in attendance, on Father’s Day, and Hood followed with the admission, “I’m sorry, dad. I love you as much as he loves his dad, but I never could write something to stand up to that.” He then introduced his own “Daddy Needs a Drink,” co-written by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Spooner Oldham.

The first deviation from Drive-By Truckers tunes came with “Cover Me Up,” the lead track from Isbell’s critically acclaimed 2013 release Southeastern. Hood performed “Grand Canyon,” a tune written in memory of close friend Craig Lieske and recorded on 2014’s English Oceans. And the trio closed its regular set with Isbell’s “Alabama Pines.”

Isbell once quipped of the trio’s sad songwriting, “I don’t want to write happy songs. This is an outlet. The guys writing happy songs have problems – like that nah nah nah nah HEY guy.” It was a pretty perfect summation of the band and the intimate evening, as the audience erupted in laughter.

The trio encored with, respectively, their most personal songs about the Shoals: Cooley with “Zip City,” Isbell with “Never Gonna Change” and Hood with “Let There Be Rock” before closing the evening with a cover of Wet Willie’s “Keep on Smilin.'” While it was all perfect, and while people that I had spoken to had traveled from as far as Colorado and West Virginia, everyone left with a barrier broken down. These three men are three of the South’s most talented song writers, but on this night, it was just another night in the Shoals.

SETLIST: Tornadoes – Carl Perkins’ Cadillac – Decoration Day – Heathens – Eyes Like Glue – TVA – Putting People on the Moon – Goddamn Lonely Love – My Sweet Annette – Women Without Whiskey – Outfit – Daddy Needs a Drink – Self Destructive Zone – Cover Me Up – The Living Bubba – Space City – Danko/Manuel – Grand Canyon – Cartoon Gold – Alabama Pines – ENCORE – Zip City – Never Gonna Change – Let There Be Rock – Keep on Smilin’ (Wet Willie cover)