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The Derek Trucks Band: From The Mystic to the Mainstream

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A tremendous work ethic combined with seemingly boundless creativity is paying off for The Derek Trucks Band just as the buzz around them increases.
The Derek Trucks Band
Lebanon Opera House
Lebanon, New Hampshire
November 20, 2005
A tremendous work ethic combined with seemingly boundless creativity is paying off for the Derek Trucks Band just as the buzz around them increases in volume and expanse. Judging from the way the band and their leader were feeling it in Lebanon New Hampshire, combined with the way the audience reacted---buzzing with anticipation beforehand, then testifying loudly throughout the set—here you have that rare coincidence when a band is peaking just when the public is catching on.

Invoking the music with a majestic guitar crescendo as he did so often early in the evening, Derek Trucks himself set the tone for the evening and his band as they slid into the happy funk of "Joyful Noise," as if an invitation to the audience. More animated on stage than ever before, the precocious guitarist smiled as often as he directly faced the crowd (though still somewhat shyly) and locked eyes in silent communication with various band members through the two-hour performance, making the quiet yet authoritative statement that he is very much the leader of the band that bears his name.

Trucks was, not coincidentally, also the focal point of the sextet in its symmetrical stage alignment as well as its source of instrumental inspiration. Much as great athletes purportedly see plays develop in slow motion, and can thus anticipate more clearly their moves, Trucks must hear the music develop in much the same time-elapsed way because his playing, whether soloing—which he did almost, but not quite as much, without as with a bottleneck in Lebanon—offering fills or shooting off rhythm figures, can be lightning fast but never hurried or flashy for its own sake.

Though they toil in well-tilled blues and R&B soil, The Derek Trucks Band never resorts to clichés. A less-is-more approach applies to their collective stage presence and removes all danger of playing to the crowd in any way other than by their musicianship. Drummer Yonrico Scott's drums solo, for instance, worked because of its inherent musical drama, the theatre of which derived directly from the fluidity of the rhythms he played rather than his goofy facial expressions.

Likewise the contributions of vocalist Mike Mattison. In an early summer DTB concert that was the definition of conventional, the curly-haired singer shared the spotlight as much as Derek Trucks himself. This gorgeous autumn night, Mattison's voice was like another instrument in the mix, the raspy quality of his voice as he wailed on "Let's Go Get Stoned effective in contrasting the steady falsetto he used on "Crow Jane. Mattison wisely knows to sit stage left when his otherwise significant vocal presence isn't necessary during the extended instrumental interludes.

Capping the end of the single set with a fleet jaunt through "Afro Blue provided a pronounced balance from the more theatrical musical moments from earlier in the evening. Descending from a peak solo moment into the mesmerizing rhythm of Bob Marley's "Rastaman Chant led into a complex series of calls-and-responses between Trucks and keyboardist/flautist Kofi Burbridge, the intricacy of which brought to the fore Derek's abiding interest in Indian music.

Perhaps no more spirited, though definitely more cerebral, was some of the interplay bassist Todd Smallie engaged in during the encore of "Groove On My Brother that brought smiles all around the stage; his utilization of the warmer, fuller sound of a Fender instrument in place of his customized six string here is emblematic of the changes in the sound of DTB. It hearkened back to the days Derek Trucks was early in his quest to redefine his playing of the electric guitar and in turn the redefinition of the guitar hero as serious musician rather than showman. There were more than few moments at the Opera House that brought those memories back, but importantly, just as many that demonstrated the polished relaxation of The Derek Trucks Band as a whole.

After spending the night issuing firecracking pops from his congas, Count M'Butu bid adieu to the fevered audience as the rest of the DTB looked on approvingly, a gesture of musicianly and human generosity the likes of which runs throughout their music. If, as was announced prior to their set, the group will be joining Eric Clapton's tour in 2006, ol' Slowhand better be prepared to step it up lest he and his own accompanists be upstaged by a Derek Trucks Band that is peaking at just the right time

Visit Derek Trucks on the web.

Photo Credit Tamera Morgan


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