Music
3:31 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

Review: Tedeschi Trucks Band

Tedeschi Trucks Band
Red Rocks, Denver, CO - July 25, 2014

Never underestimate the power of a cover. A cleverly selected and well executed cover tune can be like a firecracker with a too-short fuse, a shot of vodka when you expected water, a lightning bolt out of a clear, blue sky. The Tedeschi Trucks Band threw a lightning strike with its very first song Friday night at Red Rocks, exhuming Traffic’s “Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring,” a rather obscure but tasty tune from their earlier catalog. In a year when both Steve Winwood and Dave Mason are touring, each filling about half of their set list with classic Traffic, perhaps it was fitting. But it was definitely a total and delightful surprise. As is their wont, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks had pulled another tasty morsel from the Classic Rock repertoire that was written well before either of them was born

“Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring” has a greasy, funky vibe and the 11 piece ensemble funked it up to perfection. Tedeschi even grabbed the first solo of the evening on this tune, working the wah-wah pedal like she was stuck in stop and go on an LA freeway. Except the results were nothing but go, go, go.

The other lightning bolt from TTB’s Mount Olympus came during the encore in the form of “Eleanor Rigby.” The band turned this one inside out and upside down, creating basically a whole new tune with the familiar lyrics. This was what the Beatles would have sounded like if they had grown up in Detroit instead of Liverpool. It could have been Martha Reeves on vocals with the Pips as her backup singers (to mix a Motown metaphor) and with the Motown horns punctuating the proceedings. The exuberant soul sound contrasted sharply with the poignant lyrics. We still don’t know where all the lonely people come from, but we now know they ended up dancing in the streets. 

Another notable cover was John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” although this one was not altogether unexpected, having appeared at last year’s TTB Red Rocks show, but with Grace Potter on harmony vocals that time. Friday night’s version also did not stray far from the typical treatment most artists afford this beautiful ballad. Without breaking stride, “Angel” briefly morphed into the Dead’s “Sugaree.” Throwing in a Dead quote is a guaranteed crowd pleaser at Red Rocks. “Keep on Growing” was not a complete surprise either. That one comes from the Derek and the Dominoes songbook which Trucks had the opportunity to explore with Clapton himself while Trucks toured with him a few years ago.

The majority of TTB’s material, both originals and covers, are grounded in or at least flirt with the blues. A couple of their chosen covers Friday night dropped the flirting and jumped right in bed with the blues. “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” is one of those songs to come out of the Mississippi Delta in the first half of the 20th Century with a fuzzy lineage. In introducing the song, Tedeschi credited Blind Willie Johnson as the author, but other sources trace its ancestry to Mississippi Fred McDowell or simply refer to it as an African spiritual. Whatever the source, the band treated it with the reverence required, both from a blues standpoint as well as spiritually. More bone fide blues had preceded “Lamps” with Little Milton’s “More and More.”

In between those tunes, the two hour set drew heavily from the band’s current album Made Up Mind (2013, Sony Masterworks) with five songs from that release. TTB has left the songs from the first album Revelator (2011, Sony Masterworks) almost completely behind, even though it won a Grammy for Best Blues Album of 2011. A notable exception was “Midnight in Harlem,” a beautiful ballad destined to become an all-time classic and hopefully a standard. The other Revelator entry was the rave up “Bound for Glory.” The material from the latest album was uniformly strong, from the subtle soul of the title track to the melodic “Idle Wind” (featuring some tasteful flute work from Kofi Burbidge) to the blues of “Do I Look Worried” to the heavy rock riff of “The Storm” which closed the main set.

Besides the impeccable song selection, the most impressive aspect of the TTB is that it continues to tour extensively with eleven members. That’s a payroll well beyond most rock/blues/soul bands on the road today. The band is a throw-back to the days of the big bands. It’s obvious Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks have a specific vision for this band and they’ve made up their minds to carry it out. The sound is rich and complex and widely varied. No less than six different band members soloed during the show providing a half dozen different perspectives on the proceedings. Tedeschi handles most of the lead vocals, but the backing singers, Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers, had ample opportunities to sing lead, providing additional aural coloring to the show.

The chief soloist, of course is Trucks. He continues to have one of the most distinctive voices on the scene today. His slide playing is like no other, often sounding uncannily human. His wife, Tedeschi is no slouch, however. It takes a fair bit of guts to walk on stage with a guitar and stand next to Derek Trucks, but she proved that she belongs right there and can hold her own. Certainly, the opening solo made that statement. But it was the very last song of the show, Freddie King’s “Palace of the Blues,” that had her going literally toe to toe with Trucks as the two traded lick after lick in a friendly, yet serious marital competition. It should be noted, however, that these two have a mixed marriage. He plays a Gibson, she a Fender.

Set List

  • Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring
  • Made Up Mind
  • Idle Wind
  • Do I Look Worried
  • Don’t Miss Me
  • Midnight in Harlem
  • More and More
  • Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning
  • Back Where I Started
  • All That I Need
  • Get What You Deserve
  • Bound for Glory
  • The Storm

Encore

  • Angel From Montgomery/Sugaree
  • Keep on Growing
  • Eleanor Rigby
  • Palace of the King