Review: Tedeschi Trucks Band at Warner Theatre, March 5

At first glance, there’s nothing particularly cool about the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Lead guitarist Derek Trucks took the stage on March 5 at the Warner Theatre wearing an unassuming plaid shirt, hair tucked back in his ubiquitous low ponytail and eyes averted from the expectant crowd. The band performed in front of an unfussy backdrop of white sheets, and there was plenty of white hair to go around in the audience as well. Certainly, few people in the tie-dyed, fedora-ed crowd were winning any fashion awards.

But for whatever they lacked in style, the band more than made up for in raw musical talent. Over nearly three hours of long-form bluesy jams, the Tedeschi Trucks Band supplied a string of original songs and well-chosen covers which allowed each musician in the 12-piece powerhouse to shine. Anchored by the virtuosic duo of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, the band delivered a pastiche of blues, soul, funk, and old-school rock n’ roll which carried the sounds of the 60s into the 21st century.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band formed in 2010 around the talents of lead guitarist Derek and guitarist/vocalist Susan. The husband and wife duo each bring impressive musical lineages to the group; Derek’s uncle Butch Trucks was a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, for whom Derek himself started playing guitar at the age of 20, while Susan was a precocious talent who garnered a Best New Artist Grammy nomination for her 1998 album Just Won’t Burn. The pair met while on tour in the late 1990s, and married in 2001. They formed the Tedeschi Trucks band several years later; it now features Tyler Greenwell and Isaac Eady on percussion, Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers, and Alecia Chakour on backing vocals, Kebbi Williams on saxophone, Ephraim Owens on trumpet, Elizabeth Lea on trombone, Brandon Boone on bass, and Gabe Dixon on keyboard. Since then, the band has released five studio albums, innumerable live recordings, and has become a favorite on the jam band circuit for their soulful take on golden age rock and roll.

Although the band is best known for Derek’s virtuosic slide guitar playing, I have always been more drawn to Susan’s presence on stage as frontwoman. On Tuesday at the Warner, the band opened their first set with a cover of Joe Cocker’s “The Letter.” On that song, Susan’s rich and expressive voice rose in unison with the song’s roaring horn riffs. On the next song, a TTB original titled “Ain’t That Something,” Susan also shone as a guitarist, her ripping solo shot through with a psychedelic twang. The band’s second set opened with a version of Susan’s 1998 song “Looking for Answers” which brought a slow-burning blues flavor to an evening otherwise dominated by punchy horn riffs and explosive guitar solos.

Derek Trucks is undeniably one of the greatest guitarists of his generation, yet he plays with a precise and unflashy style. He has a demure and almost shy presence on stage, facing away from the audience and towards Susan throughout the evening, slightly hunched over his instrument. He didn’t say a single word to the crowd, preferring to let his signature Gibson SG do the talking. The man is a never-ending wellspring of musical ideas, drawing on everything from classic Allman Brothers swamp funk to Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night” in wide-ranging slide guitar solos which reliably drew TTB songs to roaring crescendos.

Yet Tedeschi Trucks Band is much more than just a showcase for Derek and Susan’s incredible talent, and their set offered many moments for the other band members to shine. The first set closed with a long rendition of “Bound for Glory” anchored by Gabe Dixon’s warm and buttery organ playing. The band’s cover of Derek and the Dominoes classic “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” descended into a chaotic free jazz duet between Kebbi Williams on saxophone and Tyler Greenwell and Isaac Eady on the drums. And on “Made Up Mind” backup vocalist Mark Rivers stepped forward to bring the song to a raucous crescendo. The evening ended with a cover of Joe Tex’s 1965 soul ballad “Show Me” which allowed the band’s horn section to deliver furious dueling solos on trombone, trumpet, and saxophone. 

Tedeschi Trucks Band left the stage after twenty songs and three hours dripping in sweat and excess musical talent. It was clear from the evening’s mash-up of old-school classics and rollicking TTB originals that Derek and Susan live and breathe for music, and it was a sheer delight to see musicians at the peak of their power delivering an unending string of hits. Tedeschi Trucks Band has found a winning formula that will keep them going for years to come. If you missed them this week at the Warner Theatre, you can catch them in April at the Kennedy Center’s Tribute to Leonard Cohen, or again in August at Merriweather Post Pavilion on the band’s Deuces Wild Tour.

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