If Mad Dogs & Englishmen and Sly & the Family Stone had had a baby, it’d be the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
A 12-headed musical monster featuring a flute-playing keyboardist; a jazz-rooted, David Bowie veteran on bass; two powerhouse drummers; three outstanding backing vocalists who also sing occasional leads; a swaggering, three-piece horn section; and fronted by the golden-voiced, guitar-shredding Susan Tedeschi and her silent, slide-guitarist extraordinaire husband Derek Trucks, the TTB takes a little bit of everything that came before, puts it through its own aural blender and serves it back up as a modern and unique stew for its audience to feast upon.
Like their imaginary musical parents, the Tedeschi Trucks Band is a co-ed, multiracial amalgam that plays as a full-strength unit and in smaller pairings of three, seven and nine musicians depending on the song.
For two hours on Monday, January 23 inside the Palace Theatre, Tedeschi shredded her brassy vocal cords, physically abused her axe and went toe-to-toe with Trucks on solo after solo while occasionally ceding the microphone to Mike Mattison, with a set of pipes nearly as impressive.
Over the course of the spellbinding concert, the band played original material like “Let Me Get By” and “Don’t Know What it Means” while also paying tribute to far-flung inspirations like the Box Tops via Joe Cocker (“The Letter”); Bobby “Blue” Bland (“I Pity the Fool”); Leonard Cohen (“Bird on the Wire”); Alan Toussaint (“Get Out My Life, Woman”); Derek and the Dominos (“Keep on Growing”); and Ray Charles (“Let’s Go Get Stoned”) among others.
Trucks, meanwhile, simply tore the place apart, happily and nonchalantly sparring with his wife and also trading solos with flute, trombone and North Mississippi Allstars’ guitarist Luther Dickinson, who sat in for a few midset numbers.
Anytime you put 12 (or 13) musicians on a stage at the same time, you’re apt to get noise. But the Tedeschi Trucks Band doesn’t make noise. Its makes a sweet, full, irresistible sound that washes over the venue and wraps itself around anyone willing to listen. And it’s a BIG sound – perhaps too big for the 2,800-seat Palace, which sounded a bit muddled in the balcony as the players competed for space in the small venue. It’s a minor quibble and a small price to pay to see a band that should be playing arenas in an intimate setting.
This wasn’t about genre. This was about music. Blues music. Soul music. Country music. Funky music. Rock ‘n’ roll music. Jazz music. All sweet. All impeccably performed; powerful and in-your-face when appropriate, subtle when necessary.
The Allstars’ 40-minute opening set was at its best when members of the headlining act shared the stage with them. Highlights included the TTB singers on a musical sandwich centered around the Staples Singers’ “Freedom Highway.” Later, Trucks emerged to add fire to “Deep Elm Blues,” a track that found he and Dickinson – who channeled Dickey Betts all evening – playing around with and teasing the Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky” but never moving fully into the song from Trucks’ former band.