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Live Reviews

From The Green Mountains to The Hub: The Derek Trucks Band Live Fall 2004

By Published: December 4, 2004

Using a slide much of the time, the sound the young guitarist makes shimmers as often as it slices through the sound of the music and while he often plays with a tantalizingly slow touch...

Derek Trucks is a legend in the making. Whether you see him with The Allman Brothers Band or his own quintet, as on two recent dates in the northeast, you are witnessing the constantly evolving young guitarist display an utter command of his instrument as well as the down to earth pragmatics of a working musician(and his band shares those virtues with him).

The approach DTB took on these dates about a week apart sheds some light on those virtues. The Waitsfield Vermont audience was ready to listen on November 14th and did so with rapt attention. Accordingly Derek & Co. relied on suggestion as their two-sets evolved through the encyclopedia of styles the quintet is familiar with: blues, r&b and soul, jazz-rock fusion and even Indian music. That the group are not mere dilettantes dabbling in these musics ironically became clearer when in Boston 11-20, the single set was segmented in the various styles, rather than suggested from song to song. The Derek Trucks Band know how to play to their audience without compromising the integrity of their music and so offered the heavy-drinking crowd at Avalon Ballroom a straightforward approach instead of the series of subtleties presented at the Eclipse Theater deep in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

It's debatable whether either show was superior to the other, though. Mike Mattison has played an integral role in the DTB since his enlistment over two years ago, as his unaffected deeply emotive singing cements together the various influences at the band's disposal. He took center stage for a greater portion of the Vermont show and accordingly, the music was increasingly soulful, a general direction keyboardist Kofi Burbridge had hinted at during a recent interview. The vocalist, a stark contrast to one of his predecessors, singer Javier Colon, who took center stage on one tune in The Hub with all the showbizzy affectation Mattison eschews, alternated powerful performances on "Life Is Crazy" and "Leavin' Trunk" with pure jazz instrumentals such as "Bock to Bock" where the band's ensemble approach directly reflected their leader's focus.

Like all the rest of his group, dressed in the same street clothes they'd wear before and after a gig, Derek Trucks is nothing if not down-to-earth, even as his guitar playing soars. Using a slide much of the time, the sound the young guitarist makes shimmers as often as it slices through the sound of the music and while he often plays with a tantalizingly slow touch—used repeatedly effectively in Vermont, but only once in Boston since he was drowned out by shouting—his guitar lines on such songs as "Volunteered Slavery" will twirl and twist at dizzying speed.

What's perhaps most impressive about Trucks, however, is that he takes as much pride in playing a forceful rhythm guitar when the material requires its, as on Curtis Mayfield's Superfly selection "Freddie's Dead." Forgoing the slide for more traditional fingerpicking, the twenty-five year old provides detail with his fills on "Soul Serenade," clearly taking as much delight in working around Mattison's voice as supplanting it when he takes the spotlight as he did on the sleek incantory "Maki Madni. " The rest of the quintet, especially Burbridge on flute and gleeful bassist Todd Smallie, seem to intuitively share Trucks' proclivity to emulate the human voice with his instrument. Had Derek segued from the title tune of his second Columbia album into Bob Marley's ":Rastaman Chant," the crowd in Vermont would certainly have become total converts of the group (if they hadn't been already).

Introduced as a hometown girl, Derek Trucks' wife Susan Tedeschi guested during the latter part of the set in Massachusetts and, while her gutsy singing fits with the DTB style, the lack of preparation undermined the intensity of her duets with Mattison on "Gonna Move" even as she added to the communal feel of "Joyful Noise." Purists might've asked for the group to leave the stage with the echoes of John Coltrane's "Impressions" still wafting through the air, but such a cerebral approach would've seemed a bit pretentious.. Likewise, not to entice the packed house in Waitsfield to leave the small venue with a dancing rhythm might've come across pompous.

Either way, The Derek Trucks Band does not blow you away in concert. They're a textbook example of understatement They're unassuming too: in much the same way Derek himself has learned to patiently build a solo until it burst into a startling intensity, their sets bestow something of a cumulative effect on their audience so that, by the time they are finished playing, you know you've been struck with something extraordinary, even though it takes awhile to fully absorb it.

Likewise, DTB is slowly but surely building itself an audience through its own regular touring throughout the year(even interspersed with Allman dates in the summer) and the judicious selection of promotion, such as spots on NPR and interviews in Guitar World, that accentuate the musical aspect of their growth rather than the personality angle. When their fame reaches its flashpoint, it will be fascinating to see what form it takes, but no more fascinating that watching The Derek Trucks Band play together as they did this past November.

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