I have always been somewhat apathetic about Derek Trucks. I saw him when he was little kid in a night club in the 90s and thought he was pretty incredible but I have never bought into the hype surrounding his talent. As his career progressed, with his own band as well as with the Allman Brothers I can’t say my opinion changed much. I thought Trucks came across as robotic, kinda like a Chinese gymnast who has been trained since birth to deliver a specific, emotionless, flawless performance. When people asked me what I thought about Tedeschi Trucks Band I always had the same answer – I thought Derek was super talented but I didn’t feel anything from his playing and Tedeschi strikes me as a slightly more soulful Bonnie Raitt.” Without fail,the response was “Have you ever seen them live? You have to see Tedeschi Trucks Band live to fully appreciate what they bring to the table.” I tell you this so you will know my mindset and where I am coming from with this review.
I walked into the venue about 20 minutes before the show started. This was the second night of a sold out three-night stand at the Ryman Auditorium and the crowd was buzzing. I was fifth row center on the floor which I usually try and avoid as the sound is typically better center balcony but I was happy to be so close this time. I struck up a conversation with the couple sitting next to me and once they found out this was my first TTB show they assured me I was in for a treat.
The band walked out promptly at 8pm and eased into “All That I Need.” It started off a with a little noodling but served as a nice intro. Instantly I figured out I was wrong about Tedeschi. Her vocals are far more soulful than I remembered and she infused the song with incredible joy and energy. The three horn players and three backing vocalists did not stay in the background for long as they showed out early.
Trucks, playing the band leader from stage right, stepped forward and made it clear why he is so highly regarded by fans and critics alike. It was such a great opener and with the first song the band made me question why I had formulated such an unflattering opinion of them. “Do I Look Worried” was bluesy with big horn section moments and Derek wearing it out on slide guitar. I especially liked the guitar-horn duel towards the end of the song. “Don’t Know What It Means” was FUNKY. It had a “Standing on Shaky Ground” feel with Tedeschi showing off her considerable guitar skills, reloading and revisiting the jam until it peaked. The whole band joined in, every instrument colliding and mashing up with the next, the horns fighting with the guitar feedback and pounding keys, resulting in an almost beautiful sonic implosion before effortlessly segueing into The Boxtops classic “The Letter”! It was soulful and a perfect showcase for Tedeschi to turn it up a notch. The horns, especially the sax player, and backing vocalists almost stole the show before Trucks joined in for a pretty hot turn. It was an explosive start to the show and I was just standing there watching this eleven-piece band show how it’s done, all the while trying to get the grin off my face. The sound on the floor was perfectly mixed and as the song finished, the lady next to me asked me what I thought and I immediately told her I would not be missing Tedeschi Trucks again.
“It’s So Heavy” showcases how beautiful and yet restrained Trucks can be in the moment. Tedeschi’s voice is the center point of this song and the band allows her room to breathe. “Don’t Drift Away” with its mix of jangly and slide quickly follows. It has a nice 70’s soul vibe and Derek’s slide plays off the keyboards, supplied expertly by Gabe Dixon, filling in for Kofi Burbridge who is recovering from surgery. “Made Up My Mind” is raved up a little and it looks like Trucks is having a good time. Tedeschi goes a little grittier on vocals and Trucks with this repetitive, driving lick is really getting off and enjoying the interplay between him and Dixon. It was an odd moment because as he is giving the guitar a good working over he looks out at the crowd and most of the floor was sitting down. There was a bemused look on his face as he walked forward on stage, almost like “get your asses up” before he seemingly gave the solo a little extra to get people on their feet. Not sure how you sit through something that stomping but plenty of people were firmly planted in the pews as the band ripped through the opening set. “Let Me Get By” starts off with stumbling and staggering drumming and the solo builds before the band joins in. It is jazzy and progresses to a New Orleans drum line feel at one point before Dixon emerges on keys. Trucks is standing beside him, even cracking a smile for the first time as Dixon takes the song off on a stunning tangent. The music drops out and all we get is the back-up singers taking us to church before Trucks steels the limelight with a blistering solo and Tedeschi resuming vocals and closing the song.
It was master class in how to bring the house down. My throat was sore from yelling and my hands hurts from clapping. As I sat there soaking in what I had just witnessed all I could do was wonder what they had in store for the second set.
“Anyhow” opens the next part of the show. It is more song driven than instrument driven but served to ease you back into the groove. “Darlin Be Home Soon” opens softly with Tedeschi nailing that 70s soul feel again. Derek does not go off the rails with his solo, choosing instead to build from a gentle slide to a whaling sonic peak. It was nice touch but then he takes back the lead and destroys it with the best solo of the night so far. It was a jaw dropping moment leaving the audience with a stunned look on their collective faces as the song finished. A cover of Derek and the Dominoes “Keep On Growing” is a nice touch and drives home how the band has an excellent understanding of how to utilize their talents and take a song to the next level. The drummers are driving the back beat and the big horn section moments make the song bounce along before Trucks takes over. The guitar work is nothing short of outstanding at this point, taking the song higher and higher with every note. Things settle down for a few moments before Trucks again snatches back the lead and closes the song. “Key to Highway” reminds us how much of a bad ass Tedeschi is on guitar, which sometimes gets lost when Trucks is taking the lead. The set closes out with Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” Bobby Blue Bland’s “I Pity the Fool and “I Want More”. Every song has its place and its moment and the crowd is on their feet, showing their appreciation. They encore with Spooner Oldham’s “Sweet Inspiration” which gives Trucks plenty of opportunity to show off on slide. It is a great closing song and the band was having a blast.
Tedeschi Trucks Band were amazing, simply amazing. The musicians are first class and the feel they have for the music is a joy to behold. The sound of this many singers and musicians rang off the walls of the mother church, and woke the ghosts of performers who have long since gone. Trucks was so much better than I remember and maybe it has something to do with the partnership with his wife, maybe it is being out from under the shadow of Duane Allman or maybe it is that I just didn’t get it to begin with, but I get it now. Tedeschi was equally as enjoyable and I really enjoyed what she brings to the party. I hate that I have missed so many years of shows due to misguided notions of what this band would be like but I am happy I finally saw them live so I can make sure not to miss them again.