By Andy J. Gordon
The New England Patriots. The Golden State Warriors. The Tedeschi Trucks Band. What is the common denominator? All three groups are highly successful, star-studded teams with a large, dedicated fan base. The comparison between those that excel in sports and music makes sense. Both are forms of entertainment where physical abilities as well as creativity are celebrated. Individual excellence is what brings fame, but teamwork combined with talent brings championships. By any measure, the Tedeschi Trucks Band are a championship team of musicians led by two superstars.
In the live and recorded music world, the Tedeschi Trucks Band is as good as it gets. The 12-piece band is a Grammy-winning alliance led by two incredible musicians, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. That talented married duo leads a blues-rock super group that headlined a magical night of soul- and blues-inspired rock music at the Orpheum Theatre on May 16, 2019, in Los Angeles.
Every Tedeschi Trucks Band show is like a roller coaster at the greatest amusement park in the world. The audience is transported on an exhilarating ride through the history of soul, blues and rock music. The band always plays choice cuts from their wonderful catalog of songs and also mixes in carefully selected covers of classics. They opened and closed the show with tunes from their 2013 Made Up Mind album. “Do I Look Worried,” “Part of Me” and “Don’t Drift Away” got the ball rolling on what would be a long night of incredible music.
There are not enough words in a thesaurus to describe the super-human guitar virtuosity of Derek Trucks. He is the Steph Curry and Tom Brady of the guitar world. His modesty and lack of any showboating on stage stand in direct contrast to the explosive, but intensely melodic majesty of his playing. Trucks takes the audience up the hill on that hypothetical rollercoaster car with slow, but intense slide solos and once at the peak, propels the riders down the chute and around the curves with incredibly explosive forays along his fretboard. It is an intense and euphoric ride.
Tedeschi is a perfect complement to Trucks. Her powerfully soul-driven vocal range fills the theater with every song. She focuses on her vocal powers with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, but also had a successful career as a blues guitarist before teaming up with Trucks. While her guitar playing usually takes a back seat to his, on Elmore James’ “Sky Is Crying,” Tedeschi showed her killer, slow-burning blues guitar chops with a fantastic solo. She also played an impressive solo on Allan Toussaint’s “Get Out My Life Woman” that was originally recorded by Lee Dorsey in 1965. The Derek Trucks Band recorded it in 2010 on their Roadsongs live album.
Tedeschi Trucks Band released a new album called Signs in February 2019. They played three tracks from the new album: “I’m Gonna Be There,” the title track “Signs, High Times” and “Shame.” Brandon Boone, who joined the group as the new bass player in January 2019, played a funky solo during “Shame.” The band also played the title track from their recently released EP High & Mighty. That song and the other tracks on the EP came from the Signs recording sessions. The new songs got the usual expanded, improvisational live treatment and fit in well with their older material.
Both Trucks and Tedeschi are generous bandleaders. They could easily keep the focus on their immense talent, but they have assembled a prolific lineup of skilled musicians and give each an opportunity to get some time in the spotlight. It was on “High & Mighty” that the fantastic horn section got their first chance to show off.
Kebbi Williams on saxophone, Ephraim Owens on trumpet and Elizabeth Lea on trombone played heavy, synchronous horn arrangements. Owens also contributed stunning solos on that song as well as on “I’m Gonna Be There.” Williams and Trucks played off each other on the slow-burning intro for “Midnight in Harlem.” Williams’ pulsing saxophone alternated with Trucks’ hypnotic slide guitar and led into the melodic vocals of Tedeschi.
The powerful backup vocalists – Mark Rivers, Mike Mattison and Alecia Chakour – also had their moments to shine. Mattison took over lead vocals and belted out a soulful cover of Bob Dylan’s “Down in the Flood” that he previously recorded with the Derek Trucks Band on their 2009 album Already Free. He also sang lead on Toussaint’s “Get Out My Life Woman.” Rivers took on the lead vocals for a foot-stomping, melodic cover of Joe Tex’s “Show Me.”
The band is a close-knit family and still recovering from the loss of beloved founding member, keyboard player Kofi Burbridge, who died earlier this year after complications from a heart attack. Gabe Dixon is filling in on keys and surprised the audience with hauntingly soulful vocals on a cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Don’t Keep Me Wondering.” He seemed to fit in nicely with the group, although, with the exception of that showcase, his role was diminished.
The show had many highlights, but each set ended with a special cut from the band’s 2013 album Made Up Mind. At the end of the first set, Tedeschi’s ethereal vocals filled the hall on “Idle Wind.” Chakour took over vocals for a stanza and Dixon played a nice organ solo. Trucks got the audience standing and applauding as he played another amazing slide solo using his unique style and tone. It all led to a rhythmic drum duel between Tyler Greenwell and J. J. Johnson that segued back to the conclusion of the song.
For the show-closing encore, the band launched into “Made Up Mind.” Mark Rivers was on lead vocals for a stanza before Tedeschi took over as the other vocalists harmonized beautifully. The horns kicked in and Trucks did yet one more mind-bending slide solo to end the show. This group of musical all stars played as a team and certainly won over an already devoted audience.
Tedeschi Trucks Band wrap up their Spring 2019 tour in the Pacific Northwest through the end of May. After a few dates in Japan they return to the States for their summer headlining of the multi-act Wheels of Soul tour. The 2019 Wheels of Soul tour has the band hitting the road with Blackberry Smoke and Shovels & Rope. The tour starts in their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, on June 28.