LIVE: Tedeschi Trucks Band @ SPAC, 7/3/18
Review by Don Wilcock
Photographs by Stanley A. Johnson
Derek Trucks used his guitar like a baton to “direct” the 12-piece “orchestra” that is the Tedeschi Trucks Band as the Wheels of Soul Tour made a stop at Saratoga Performing Arts Center earlier this month. I thought last year’s show was spectacular. But the stars aligned for this year’s show.
A year after heart surgery, Kofi Burbridge is back on keyboards and flute. It’s been three years since the dissolution of the Allman Brothers Band and a year since Derek’s uncle Butch Trucks, the Allman Brothers’ drummer, committed suicide. Gregg Allman is dead, and former Allman guitarist Derek Trucks is more than ready to command that legacy with this incomparable band. He has the ability to steer the dozen-strong behemoth – including two drummers, three horn players and three back-up vocalists – into a focused machine that negotiates such diverse genres as pop, rock, jazz, r&b and blues like a zero-turn lawn mower on an 18-hole golf course.
The show was an amazing two hours. Derek’s reference points are a love of late ’60s large rock bands (specifically Delaney & Bonnie, Derek & The Dominoes, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Sly & the Family Stone), a deep knowledge of American music history and his own 19-year tenure in the Allman Brothers. On stage, all that comes off as a mere dress rehearsal for this current band.
Someone once told me that when Beethoven was creating his fifth symphony, before any of it was set in stone, he test drove his works with an orchestra of crack musicians who could feel his muse and smooth the rough edges into the smooth concrete structure that that symphony is today. Tedeschi Trucks is half way between Delaney & Bonnie and Beethoven’s Fifth in using its phenomenal musicians to bring Trucks’ vision to reality. The big rock bands of the early ’70s pounded the creative well spring of ’60s underground rock into larger than life concerts and were crunchy granola on speed. They were larger than life in presentations, but those guys were driving manual transmissions. Bombast was almost as important as melody. Plus, everybody was high.
I saw Delaney & Bonnie, and the show was something to experience, but their heritage pales next to Trucks’, who’s been playing in one capacity or another with world class rockers, specifically since sitting in with the Allman Brothers at age 12, becoming Dickey Betts’ jamming partner in the band at 19, and finally trading licks with Warren Haynes for most of the Allman Brothers’ tenure until 2015 and pounding Tedeschi Trucks into the powerhouse it is today for nearly the past 10 years.
He plays the same guitar throughout – no pedals, no gadgets – and yet makes it sound like a sitar, a sax and Elmore James on blues slide. You almost feel like he controls the band as if each instrument were a fret that he pushes the strings on to control. But he’s a benevolent despot, letting the crack musicians in the group bring their own muse into play.
They opened with Derek & The Dominoes’ “Tell The Truth” and encored two hours later with Blind Willie McTell’s delta blues classic “Statesboro Blues.” In between they dipped into their originals repertoire for “Part of Me,” “Don’t Know What It Means,” did a breathtaking rendition of Dylan’s “Down in the Flood,” went pop with the Box Tops’ “The Letter,” and soulful on “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.” Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers sat in on guitar for the Wings cover “Let Me Roll It.” First opening act Marcus King sat in on guitar for “Laugh About It” and “Key to the Highway.”
TTB played only one new song, “Shame,” from an album they just finished recording before beginning the tour and not due out until early next year. A regular on stage since early in the year, its sure to become a staple rousing number with Susan Tedeschi on vocals.
Even with an hour on stage, Drive-By Truckers had as much trouble capturing the crowd as Hot Tuna did as a 45-minute opener last year. Their punk-meets-southern R&B did not translate to a fan base that was there for the headliner. And Marcus King Band was a young band determined to jam too many notes into too short a half hour.