Photo by Marc Millman
Tedeschi Trucks Band, Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles, CA- 9/17
Anyone familiar with the Tedeschi Trucks Band knows how conscientiously its namesakes, Derek Trucks and wife Susan Tedeschi, encourage and emphasize an egalitarian approach to their 12-piece ensemble. Every performance is an exercise in harmony, balancing the spotlight shining on a particular player and the thundering power of the collective surrounding them. Yet, Tedeschi and Trucks are more than just gracious hosts to an awesome phalanx of musicianship. They are both, themselves, superstars.
It’s been no secret for over a decade now that Derek Trucks carries the reputation of a guitar monster. The frightening thing at this point is how he continues to improve on an ability that already seemed uniquely exceptional. The same could be said of Tedeschi, whose vocal prowess and guitar work of her own rises to every moment, whether tender and affecting or low down and dirty. This second of two sold-out Los Angeles shows at the downtown Orpheum Theatre was just the latest on a growing list of entries of a band finding a new ceiling to smash.
When drummers J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell launched the title track of the band’s latest, Let Me Get By, the fashionably late arrivers scuttled to their seats in time for keyboardist Kofi Burbridge to peel back the first of the evening’s improvisational statements on his Hammond B-3. Trucks followed with a dagger-sharp solo, as Tedeschi belted out the chorus, then turned to the shifting “Laugh About It,” and another stinging run from Derek. A third cut from the new album, the New Orleans-soaked march of Mike Mattison’s “Right On Time,” complete with Ephraim Owens’ staggering trumpet, was next before Mattison growled out “Get Out of My Way, Woman” reinforced by Tedeschi’s blistering blues guitar.
Covers figured prominently, as Trucks matched the horn lines of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity?” then shifted back to the new record for “Don’t Know What it Means,” equal parts hand-claps and saxophonist Kebbi Williams’ atonal blitz-out. Even with such a hot start, it was on Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos rambler “Keep on Growing,” that Trucks detonated. Patient and prodding, ethereal and raw, fingers in a blur, the pony-tailed master mesmerized with every cascading octave climb and fall, every penetrating note. The resulting roar and standing ovation was the least the capacity crowd felt it could do in response, and left the easy-feeling first-set closer, Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” even with the playful trombone of Elizabeth Lea, and impassioned vocals of Mattison and Alecia Chakour, slightly anti-climactic.
Round two started with the up-tempo soul of “I Want More” that dovetailed into the Santana instrumental “Soul Sacrifice,” as Johnson and Greenwell hammered out the breaks. Moving from background to foreground, Mattison, Chakour, and vocalist Mark Rivers gathered around a single mic for the spiritual “I’m On My Way to Heaven Anyhow,” before another Let Me Get By track, the rolling “Anyhow,” followed, propelled by the nimble basslines of Tim Lefebvre. Recalling their first record, the group coupled a simmering “Bound for Glory,” and River’s inspired testimonial vocals, with its now-classic “Midnight in Harlem,” the latter featuring a “Swamp Raga” intro infused with Williams’ sober sax.
Five of the final half-dozen belonged to the heroes and influences, including the crunching take on The Beatles’ “I’ve Got A Feeling,” and Tedeschi’s gorgeous rendering of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” (and it’s dip into Jerry Garcia’s “Sugaree”). If Trucks is the guitar hero, Tedeschi is the vocal heroine, snarling on the B.B. King tribute “How Blue Can You Get,” before hitting the peaks first summited by Steve Winwood on Blind Faith’s “Had to Cry Today,” with guesting guitar from Jimmy Vivino. It was all foreplay to the cathartic release of the encore, unleashing Joe Cocker’s version of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help from My Friends,” and delivering its iconic throat-shredding scream to hair-raising perfection.
Tedeschi stood alone as the group disappeared into the wings. She thanked the audience in the softest and most disarming of voices, as if the last three hours she and her bandmates had been possessed by a supernatural muse of the blues and now had returned to their earthly selves. Yes, Tedeschi Trucks Band is of this planet, but it’s getting happily harder to believe.