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Tedeschi Trucks Band at Red Rocks

Geoff Anderson By

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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, July 25, at Red Rocks, exhuming Traffic's "Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring," a rather obscure but tasty tune from its 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 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" had a greasy, funky vibe and the 11-piece ensemble funked it up to perfection. Tedeschi even grabbed the first solo of the evening, 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," though this one was not altogether unexpected, having appeared at TTB's Red Rocks show last year (with Grace Potter on harmony vocals). Friday night's version also did not stray far from the typical treatment most artists afford this beautiful ballad. Without breaking stride, however, "Angel" briefly morphed into Jerry Garcia's "Sugaree," regularly performed by his main group, the Grateful Dead. Throwing in a Dead quote is a guaranteed crowd pleaser at Red Rocks. "Keep on Growing" was not a complete surprise either, coming from the Derek and the Dominoes songbook that Trucks had the opportunity to explore with 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 bonafide blues 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 (Sony Masterworks, 2013), its five uniformly strong songs ranging from the subtle soul of the title track and the melodic "Idle Wind" (featuring some tasteful flute work from keyboardist Kofi Burbidge) to the blues of "Do I Look Worried" and heavy rock riff of "The Storm," which closed the main set. TTB left Revelator (Sony Masterworks, 2011) largely behind, even though its first album won a Grammy Award for Best Blues Album of 2011.Two notable exceptions were "Midnight in Harlem," a beautiful ballad destined to become an all-time classic and hopefully a standard, and the rave-up "Bound for Glory."

Besides the impeccable song selection, the most impressive aspect of the TTB was 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 that the husband-and-wife team of Tedeschi and Trucks has a specific vision for this band and the pair have made up their minds to carry it out. The sound was rich, complex and widely varied, with no less than six different band members soloing during the show, providing a half dozen different perspectives on the proceedings. Tedeschi handled most of the lead vocals, but the backing singers, Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers, each had ample opportunities to sing lead, providing additional aural coloring to the show.

The chief soloist, of course, was Trucks, who continues to possess one of the most distinctive voices on the scene today. His slide playing was like no other, often sounding uncannily human. Tedeschi, was no slouch, however. It takes a fair bit of guts to walk onstage with a guitar and stand next to Trucks, but she proved that she belonged right there and could hold her own; certainly, her opening solo of the night made that statement. But it was the very last song of the show, Freddie King's "Palace of the Blues," that found Tedeschi 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.

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