Music
3:37 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Tedeschi Trucks Band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and JJ Grey and Mofro

Tedeschi Trucks Band
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
JJ Grey and Mofro
Red Rocks
June 15, 2013
 

When you walk into the venue and the stage is set up with three Hammond B 3 organs, each with its own Leslie speaker, you know you’re in for something earthy and gritty. And what better place for earthiness and grittiness than Red Rocks Amphitheater, carved out of 60 million year old rock formations? Throw in perfect June weather and three bands that mix various amounts of blues, rock, soul, funk and jazz and it was an evening for the ages; or at least 6 hours.

JJ Grey and Mofro

                JJ Grey had never been to Red Rocks before, and like pretty much every other first timer, he was awe-struck and gushed over the scenery. He pulled himself together enough to put on an hour long blues set with a six piece backing band. He had drums, bass, keyboards (the B 3, ya know), guitar, trumpet and sax. Grey sang and played guitar on about half the tunes. He started with a new, somewhat topical song, “99 Shades of Crazy,” referencing the soft-core porn books aimed at suburban moms.

            Grey came on stage with gray slacks and a navy polo shirt. Together with his short-cropped, thinning gray hair, he appeared fully qualified to man the counter at an auto parts store. But he’s a blues man! He growled through a set of originals in front of his crack blues band with solos throughout the set by most members.

            With three groups on the bill, all of a jammish persuasion, some cross pollination seemed inevitable. Sure enough, during “Ho Cake,” a Grey classic going back to his first album, Kofi Burbidge of the Tedeschi Trucks Band joined Mofro on stage. Burbidge is normally the TTB’s keyboard man, but he showed up with his flute. He borrowed the trumpeter’s mic and threw down an impromptu solo. Why not?

JJ Grey Set List
99 Shades of Crazy
Brighter Days
Your Lady; She’s Shady
Write a Letter
My Eyes are Wide Open
Only the Thrill
Ho Cake, Kofi on flute
Another Country Club

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

             I’ve complained before in this space about Potter’s increasing commercialism. (BTW, Potter turned 30 on June 20: over the hill?) Her latest album, The Lion, The Beast, The Beat, continues the trend. Many of the songs are constructed around sticky, sugary pop hooks. Her set Saturday night was, however, different. Dare I draw a comparison to Clapton? Yes, I dare.

            Back in the 1970s, Eric Clapton began spending a lot of time in the Caribbean. Possibly as a result of that, or possibly as a result of kicking heroin around that time, his studio albums began to take on a laid back, sometimes reggae-inflected flavor. (461 Ocean Boulevard, There’s One in Every Crowd, etc.) His fans from his blues guitar hero days were frustrated and depressed.  However, he continued his blues obsession in concert throughout the era. The album EC Was Here is a small document of this period. A better examination appears on Crossroads II, a four CD set chronicling his heavy blues output during his concerts of that period.

            Potter’s set Saturday night was a somewhat similar contrast to her recent studio work. Her early material was shot through with the blues, subtle funk and more than a little jam band influence. At Red Rocks, the jamming influence rose to the forefront. That sound was evident right out of the box. “Stop the Bus” is a tune from 2007’s This is Somewhere (an older album for her). The band rearranged this one to include a rave-up jam in the middle; deftly designed to rev up the audience. The next song, “Some Kind of Ride,” was from an even earlier album, Nothing But the Water from 2006. That was back when denim and flannel weren’t just her wardrobe, they were a lifestyle. “Never Go Back” was a track from her latest disc, but, for the most part, that one eschews the pop-hook formula.

“Devil’s Train” is where things got real interesting. On this one, the drummer strapped on a single drum and walked down front. All the rest of the band members donned acoustic guitars (even the bass player) and gave a workout to this old Roy Acuff classic. Listen for this one on the soundtrack to movie The Lone Ranger: Wanted. Definitely not a slick pop tune…

While on the Devil theme, and to gain more jam band cred at the same time, the band then went into “Friend of the Devil.” The deepest jam flavor came out toward the end of the show. The “Nothing But The Water Suite” is another tune from 2006. The first part of the studio version has Grace on a cappella, gospel infused vocals, followed by rock-n-roll rave for the second part. Saturday night, Grace was alone on the stage for part one, but this time she was wearing her Flying V guitar. Instead of a cappella vocals, Potter accompanied herself with the guitar. And not any old guitar licks. She played slide and had a nasty distorted sound. These licks could have come off a Chess Records side from the 1950s.

Still not finished with the Anti-Pop-Potter, the next tune was a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” This one has been known to show up on the jam band scene, including renditions by Gov’t. Mule who’s known to play this one semi-regularly. Potter has been known to consort with the Mule and its leader Warren Haynes, so why not?

Flying V tangent: (“Hi, I’m Grace Potter. I don’t always play guitar, but when I do, it’s always a Flying V.”) Ever since the dawn of rock-n-roll, the guitar has been a ubiquitous and effective phallic symbol. But a chick playing the guitar? Well, simple, just choose a Flying V. After all, “V” is for……

Grace Potter Set List
Stop the Bus
Some Kind of Ride
Goodbye Kiss
Low Road
Never Go Back
Big White Gate
Devil’s Train
Friend of the Devil
Medicine
Paris
Stars
The Divide
Water Suite Grace on slide
War Pigs
The Lion, The Beast, The Beat

Tedeschi Trucks Band

            The Tedeschi Trucks Band has to be one of the top touring bands in the country right now. The amount of talent in this single band is unparalleled. Three years ago, the band started as an 11 piece ensemble. They’ve been touring ever since and they’ve maintained the original instrumentation despite the obvious challenge of payroll that size.

            As has been their practice throughout their three year existence, the band played a combination of original tunes and covers. Keeping with their sound and musical influences, the covers were generally from the 1970s and before. The first tune, for example, was George Harrison’s “Wah Wah,” one that seems to be rarely heard but, that of course, is part of the fun of pulling out one like this. The band paid homage to its blues roots with Elmore James’ “The Sky is Crying.”

            A real highlight in the cover category was John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery.” Bonnie Raitt had a hit with this one and hers may be the definitive version. Saturday night’s performance will give Raitt’s a run for the money. This one came during the encore and featured Potter on vocals, trading back and forth with Tedeschi. These singers are two of the most powerful vocalists out there and to hear them tenderly work their way through the beautiful melody was a rare treat. As if that weren’t enough, Tedeschi threw in a couple verses from the Dead’s “Sugaree” for good measure.

            An 11 piece band allows for a broad sonic diversity. Besides Trucks on guitar and Tedeschi on vocals and guitar up front, the band includes two drummers, keyboards, bass, two backing vocalists and three horn players. While Trucks gets plenty of solos, most everyone else gets a chance to step up too. Tedeschi played several guitar solos and sounded good; even next to her husband who is widely regarded as one of the top blues-rock players on the scene. All the horns got more than one solo slot, Burbidge played several keyboard solos and got his flute out again, the vocalists came down front for lead roles and the drummers had a brief spotlight.

            The bass player warrants special mention. The original bass player in the band was Otiel Burbidge, brother of Kofi and the bassist for the Allman Brothers. Otiel has left the band and TTB has had a few different bass players over the past few months, including George Porter, Jr. of the Meters. Saturday night’s bass player was Eric Krasno, who’s actually a guitar player by trade. He has two bands of his own: Soulive and Lettuce, both funk-rock-jam outfits. It’s obvious what happens when you put a bass in the hands of an accomplished guitarist: no mere timekeeping, but rather continuous countermelodies and a steady intricate undercurrent. Toward the end of the set, the band brought on Todd Smally, bass player for the now disbanded Derek Trucks Band. That allowed Krasno to get back behind a guitar and fire off some tasty solos. His turn out front on Clapton’s “Any Day” was especially exciting.

Tedeschi Trucks Band Set List
Wah Wah
Don’t Let Me Slide
Made Up Mind
It’s So Heavy
Misunderstood
Bound for Glory
That Did It
I Wanna Know How it Feels. Backing vocalist out front
Midnight in Harlem
Nobody’s Free
Sky is Crying
Old Time Lovin’
Get What You Deserve.
Instrumental.
Any Day. Krasno guitar solo
Encore
Angel from Montgomery/Sugaree (with Grace Potter)
Set Me Free
Whiskey Legs