Photo by Bill Kelly
The world looks a whole lot different than it did the last time Tedeschi Trucks Band holed up at New York’s Beacon Theatre for their now-annual 6-night residency. Aside from the obvious political turmoil, the extended TTB family has also experienced an inordinate amount of tragedy in the last year with the deaths of Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks, Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley, Tom Petty, Leonard Cohen, Col. Bruce Hampton, and Leon Russell. The band’s own Kofi Burbridge suffered a health scare earlier this year that required emergency heart surgery and kept him off the road in the subsequent months. But Burbridge made it back for the Beacon shows, and Tedeschi Trucks Band were as strong as ever, maybe even stronger; a towering immovable mountain in these turbulent times.
On the final night of the run the group left no stone unturned, burning through two stunning sets that showed off perfectly why this group has become such a reliable force to be reckoned with and through it all the crowd was right there with them; on their feet the moment the musicians took the stage and dancing, singing, and cheering along as soon as the first notes were played. The powerhouse, show-opening rendition of Derek and the Dominos’ “Keep On Growing” kicked off a first set full of some of the group’s biggest live staples, including a beautiful “Midnight in Harlem” that saw Derek Trucks’ customary “Swamp Raga” intro expand into an incredible 4-minute interplay with saxophonist Kebbi Williams, along with a downright dirty performance of “The Storm” bringing the set to a close with a feature from drummers Tyler Greenwell and J. J. Johnson building into an explosive ending on the tune’s funky riff.
Year by year the talents of both Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks have seemed to reveal themselves more and more; staking out their own unique space among both their contemporaries and the great musicians of the past whose influence they so openly channel. Trucks’ approach to slide guitar has become one all his own, and his emotional range on the instrument was on fearsome display throughout the night, reaching chill inducing heights with his solo “Do I Look Worried.” Similarly, Susan’s voice now stacks up against the greatest of soul singers – and she might shirk that claim, but her performances on songs like “Until You Remember” and “The Letter” were respectively spellbinding and ferocious in a way too few singers are these days.
The undisputed highlight of the show, of course, was the guest appearance from Trey Anastasio at the close of the second set. The Phish guitarist, joining TTB for the first time, led a spirited take on the Joe Cocker tune “Delta Lady” before he and Trucks went in deep on a 33-minute “Mountain Jam.” There was a sense of preemptive awe at the moment the crowd realized what song was being played; the unmistakable feeling of thousands of people realizing all at once that they were about to experience something magical. And magical it was. Anastasio and Trucks’ guitars wound each other with an instant chemistry, latching onto bits of harmony, trading biting blues riffs, or following each other into dissonant chaos, the two were on fire. Burbridge, Greenwell and Johnson, and bassist Tim Lefebvre each turned in stellar solos as well as the jam descended into freeform territory before swinging back to life with a shuffling beat and the two guitarists once again letting their instruments soar before the group eventually brought everything to an appropriately gargantuan ending.
After the audience had a chance to catch their breath, it was finally time for Tedeschi Trucks Band to wrap up this run with one more burst of brilliance. They started the encore with just Burbridge and Tedeschi taking the stage for a beautiful performance of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” before the rest of the band returned for the uplifting “Bound for Glory,” which felt like a proper spiritual as the whole theater joined together in song. It was the only song they could have brought things to a close with, a charging dose of concentrated hope to send out into the world until they return for another six nights next year.