LIVE: Tedeschi Trucks Band @ SPAC, 7/3/18 (Take Two)
Review by Steven Stock
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
This news flash just in: the Tedeschi Trucks Band makes great records, but somehow they manage to sound even better live. In marked contrast to Steely Dan, who played Saratoga Performing Arts Center three nights earlier, Tedeschi Trucks change the set list virtually every night. The common denominator, which certainly held true for SPAC (the fourth stop on this year’s 19-date Wheels of Soul Tour), is that every performance features an alluring blend of covers and original material.
If they were snobs, they’d likely choose songs by Big Star and the Beatles, but instead the 12-piece Tedeschi Trucks line-up offered spirited versions of the Box Tops’ AM radio staple “The Letter” and (with an additional guest guitarist upping the ante) the Wings’ tune “Let Me Roll It.”
The opening number, Derek & The Dominos’ “Tell the Truth,” served almost as a declaration of intent, for despite the presence of three horns, three singers, two drummers and a keyboard player who doubles on flute, Tedeschi Trucks do a good job of staying true to the essence of the songs. “Tell the Truth” had some evocative slide guitar from Derek Trucks as he traded solos with his spouse Susan Tedeschi, their interplay faithful to the spirit of the original’s Duane Allman/Eric Clapton call and response.
Stirring renditions of “Laugh About It,” a new original called “Shame” and “Bound for Glory” kept nearly the entire audience on their feet as TTB ended their main set on a high note. From 1999 to the band’s demise in 2014 Trucks played in the Allman Brothers Band alongside his uncle Butch Trucks, who regrettably died last year, and the encore performance of “Statesboro Blues” (a Blind Willie McTell song memorably covered by the Allmans on At Fillmore East and virtually every show of theirs thereafter) was a fitting tribute, enjoyable on its own merit yet with a deeper resonance for those in the know.
While the headliners needed two hours to sashay through 14 songs, Drive-By Truckers ripped through 13 songs in an hour as the sun slowly set on a muggy evening in Saratoga. Although just a quintet — bass/drums/two guitars and a fifth utility player who switched between guitar and keyboards – the Truckers posed a challenge to the soundboard, particularly on the three-guitar (given their lefty leanings one hesitates to call them a guitar army!) numbers like the opening “Surrender Under Protest” and their glorious cover of The Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away.”
The sound was definitely clearer when the band used keyboards, as on “Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn” and “Babies in Cages.” But it seems churlish to dwell on the occasionally muddy sound when the quality of both the songwriting and the playing was so strong. Writing songs about music risks descending into a self-referential wormhole, but “Ronnie and Neil” and “Let There Be Rock” succeed on an elemental boogie level even before you begin to appreciate the lyrics.
Drive-by Truckers also benefit from having two distinct (and very distinctive) lead singers. It’s hard to pick just one highlight from their set, but the rhythm section gave “Marry Me” an up-tempo chug that was simply irresistible.
Marcus King has a solid group, with gospel-inflected keyboards and two horns lending an attractive Memphis Stax/Volt vibe to his bluesy tunes. Alas King’s voice possesses a raspy quality which to his admirers likely conveys grit and authenticity, but sounded a bit like Janis Joplin after too many cigarettes and too much Southern Comfort. That said, most of the early-arriving crowd responded positively to the music of his band’s opening set, and King certainly contributed some flashy guitar licks when he guested with Tedeschi Trucks later in the evening on a great rendition of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway.”
DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS SET LIST
Surrender Under Protest
Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn
A Ghost to Most
Babies in Cages
Ronnie and Neil
Southern Accents/Ever South
The KKK Took My Baby Away (The Ramones)
Made Up English Oceans
Let There Be Rock
TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND SET LIST
Tell the Truth (Bobby Whitlock/Eric Clapton)
Part of Me
Don’t Know What It Means
The Letter (Wayne Carson)
Little Martha (Duane Allman)/Midnight in Harlem
Down in the Flood (Bob Dylan)
Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever (Ivy Jo Hunter/Stevie Wonder)
I Want More
Let Me Roll It (Paul and Linda McCartney)
Laugh About It
Key to the Highway (Charles Segar/Big Bill Broonzy)
Bound for Glory
Statesboro Blues (Blind Willie McTell)