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Tedeschi Trucks Band: Little Rock, AR, July 15, 2012

C. Michael Bailey By

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Tedeschi Trucks Band
Robinson Auditorium
Little Rock, Arkansas
July 15, 2012

The post-millennial Allman Brothers Band has given rise to a number of notable side projects. Among these offshoots are guitarist Warren Haynes' projects Gov't Mule and The Warren Haynes Band, bassist Oteil Burbridge's Oteil and the Pacemakers, drummer Jai Johanny Johanson's Jaimoe's Jasssz Band, and guitarist Derek Trucks' Derek Trucks Band. Trucks, nephew of ABB drummer Butch Trucks has successfully led his own band since the release of The Derek Trucks Band (Landslide Records, 1997). Since that time, the Derek Trucks Band has released seven more well-received recordings. He also met and married blues guitarist and vocalist Susan Tedeschi, a musical power in her own right.

In 2009, Trucks Tedeschi put their solo projects on hold to pool their musical efforts and spend more time together to boot. The most welcome result was 2011's Revelator (Sony Masterworks), by the newly forged Tedeschi Trucks Band, members culled from the two original bands. An assembly of thirteen original compositions, Revelator was a smart collection of blues and soul music of the 1960s and funk of the 1970s. The soul music angle proves interesting, with the band expanding beyond the Memphis Muscle Shoals axis (and its rhythm and blues roots) into Motown and Philadelphia soul.

Revelator was quickly followed by Live: Everybody's Talkin' (Sony Masterworks, 2012) which added several notable covers to the wealth of concert material available from Revelator, including John Sebastian's "Darlin' Be Home Soon," Hambone Willie Newbern's "Rollin' and Tumblin'" (though this version resembles Elmore James' 1960 Fire recording than Newbern's) and Stevie Wonder's "Uptight." These three covers illustrate the blues, folk and soul stew percolating in the TT Band, a group whose 2012 tour can only be considered a modern musical soul revue.

That very revue rolled into Little Rock, Arkansas for a Sunday night performance at Robinson Auditorium. Seating just under 2600, Robinson Auditorium provides a comfortable and almost intimate concert experience and this show was no exception. The audience was decidedly Baby Boom vintage, a group likely to have seen Duane Allman in 1970, with some Gen X and Millennials thrown in. After a 20- minute set of Southern Americana meets Twin Peaks by the Shannon Whitworth Band, the eleven-member Tedeschi Trucks Band casually took the stage, opening with its popular cover of the 1966 Fred Neil tune "Everybody's Talkin,'" made famous by Harry Nilsson and used in the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy. What the TT Band does with this densely introspective ballad is open it wide open, spilling out a molten brew of gospel funk in the grandest Mid-South tradition, propelled by Tedeschi's full-choke singing and Trucks' sinewy precise fretwork. It was a recipe concocted over and over, with great and successful effect, all evening.

Trucks wasted no time introducing his signature hacksaw slide guitar style, employing the technique to three-quarters of the concert's fifteen often lengthy songs (including two encores). It is worth noting Trucks' slide approach. During this entire concert, he performed using an open E-chord guitar tuning (E B E G# B E) on his familiar Gibson SG. Within these parameters, he plays with both a facile grace and a corrosive fluidity regardless of song key. Trucks has honed this method of playing to a high sheen, not unlike what Eddie Van Halen did with his fret-board tapping technique. The open-E chord is a durable slide guitar tuning. He easily plays at tempo, navigating the neck with speed and dexterity, a capability readily captured and illustrated on his first recording The Derek Trucks Band on John Coltrane's "Mr. PC."

That said, it is Tedeschi's presence that seals the "complete package" temperament of the band. Her soulful and muscular vocals, coupled with her exceptional and durable lead and rhythm guitar skills and songwriting bring to the former Derek Trucks Band what it lacked, a synergistic star presence culminating in a new group greater than the sum of its parts. Tedeschi proved equally capable of a biting delivery on "Don't Let Me Slide" and gentle sleekness on "Darlin' Be Home Soon." She also brings a more lyrically directed sensibility to the songwriting, one that exists not at the expense of the virtuosity of this exceptional band, but in support of it. The group's virtuosity never approached the excesses of the 1970s—lessons these Gen X musicians learned from the extravagant Baby Boomers.

With the two principles addressed, only the key operative of the band name remains: the Tedeschi Trucks Band. These eleven musicians, joined in a common goal, resembled more a throwback to those multitalented large bands of the past, like Paul Butterfield's Woodstock big band and Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen (A&M, 1970) group. While similar to these storied bands, the TTB appearing in Little Rock was infinitely tighter and more precise, eschewing the rollicking recklessness of the '70s. While Tedeschi and Trucks may be the first among equals, the remainder of the band clearly existed on that same plane, as opposed to touring musicians supporting superstars. Everyone got his or her moment in the spotlight.

And those moments were many. Background vocalist Mike Mattison (from the DTB) sang a searing traditional blues in "Get What You Deserve," while Kofi Burbridge stepped out from behind the keyboards to provide a humid and fluid flute to the instrumental interlude, "Shrimp and Grits." Each of the horn section also took their turn. Trumpeter Maurice Brown went all Lester Bowie on the Motown rave-up, before trombonist/vocalist Saunders Sermons played MC, introducing the band while riffing on Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" (after having delivered a sprite and forceful solo on "Love Has Something Else to Say" and "Midnight in Harlem"). Tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams morphed several times into Albert Ayler's anger management, free jazz therapy during the show, stretching the genre bounds already bruised by the band.

Stevie Wonder's "Uptight" had been a feature in several of the band's shows on this tour, and could have been expected to be the encore—but no. After a lengthy introduction during the encore, the band broke into an incendiary performance of Sly and the Family Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher," ending a fine concert on a beautifully corrosive, Baby Boomer Summer of Love note. Vital and organic, the Tedeschi Trucks band delivered something old, something new, nothing borrowed and everything true.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band: Susan Tedeschi: lead vocals, rhythm guitar; Derek Trucks: lead guitar; Oteil Burbridge: bass; Kofi Burbridge: keyboards, flute; Tyler Greenwell: drums, percussion; J. J. Johnson: drums, percussion; Kebbi Williams: saxophone; Maurice Brown: trumpet; Saunders Sermons: trombone; Mike Mattison: harmony vocals; Mark Rivers: harmony vocals.

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