The Tedeschi Trucks Band brought its collaborative brand of blues-rock magic to the Tobin Center on Thursday night to a sold out, highly attentive crowd.
Guitar hero Derek Trucks famously joined the Allman Brothers Band in 1999 at age 19, having guested with the group previously and grown up around its music via his uncle, drummer Butch Trucks. Singer-songwriter Susan Tedeschi was a successful solo artist in her own right. She married Derek Trucks in 2001 and they merged their respective bands in 2010.
A tight-but-largely-uneventful opening set from contemporary blues and soul band Southern Avenue opened the evening before Tedeschi Trucks took the stage just before 9 p.m. The visual setup was muted. The band relied only on gear and a typical light show, letting the music serve as the main source of fireworks. TTB did have a low-key backdrop, however, unsettlingly reminiscent of a Windows 95 version of the cover of the new Tool album.
Tedeschi and Trucks are the clear leaders and stars of the band. It might be easy to sum them up superficially by saying “she sings and he plays the guitar solos,” but that’s not really accurate. For one, Tedeschi holds her own on the guitar, especially considering her husband’s stature and talent. On top of that, their playing and performance style is more of a duet.
This approach is made possible by Truck’s mastery of the instrument. Like classic players, he’s developed a phrasing, style and tone that makes him immediately recognizable. He uses a slide intermittently and presents solos and licks that mimic the human singing voice — not an easy feat.
That means the band is at their best when Tedeschi uses her huge singing voice to light up the room and Trucks replies in kind.
Despite a laidback stage presence, the band wasted no time filling the room with a joyful vibe that made it easy to forget there was a mean ol’ world outside. The crowd skewed old enough that it would have been easy to shout, “OK, Boomer” and annoy a significant faction. It was also clear from the abundance of Allman Brothers and Govt Mule shirts that at least some of the crowd were among the ABB faithful, though one fan managed to terrify by looking remarkably like Mitch McConnell.
First up for TTB was the funk blues of “Signs,” the title track from its most-recent album and a tone-setter for the evening. It was immediately apparent drummers Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson would be holding down the set with their tight playing. The mix for the entire show was excellent, and it was easy to distinguish what each percussionist was adding — not always possible with such a large band.
And, indeed, this was true for the whole band. Tasteful playing and clear mixing allowed the 12-piece to shine across bass and keys as well as horns and backup singers. Despite the excellent blending of the leads, TTB is not a tapestry like the Grateful Dead, where it can be unclear who’s playing what and the band becomes the legendary six-headed beast. TTB featured each of the players across the course of the evening, striking a collaborative and celebratory vibe.
Other early highlights included the funky “Just as Strange” as well as a life-affirming run through The Beatles’ “I Got A Feeling,” absolutely destroyed by Tedeschi. In a deft full-band move, the ensemble jumped right into the bluesy “Life Is Crazy.” Trucks’ playing remained uniformly tasteful and inspired, as the band closed this segment with a cover of Derek & The Dominoes’ “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” which served to remind the crowd that TTB recently covered the entire Dominoes album with Phish guitarist and upcoming Tobin performer Trey Anastasio as special guest.
It can’t be denied that TTB kills on the covers, including “The Sky Is Crying” near the end of the regular set and opening the encore with a heavily reworked version of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.” The crowd seemed largely unfamiliar with the TTB originals, but it’s a testament to the accessibility of the songwriting that it also didn’t seem to matter.
About an hour into the show, TTB fired up “I Want More,” which featured the big jam of the evening. The band seemed to take a cue from the Allman Brothers and focus the improvisational fireworks on one sequence, like the Allmans did with “Whipping Post” or “High Falls.” Indeed, the jam wound down to a percussion-led segment that harkened directly back to the late ’60s.
With the Allmans no more and the Dead guys likely headed for their last jams, it’s nice to know bands like TTB can keep the dream alive.
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