How lovely it is to road trip when someone else is doing the driving. Sure, I love to be behind the wheel, but not heading down the East Coast on I-95 into Washington, DC. Amtrak took me there a few Saturdays ago for a girls' weekend in Our Nation's Capital, with the joyful powerhouse that makes music together as the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
I've heard these two many times. I love their regular stands at the Beacon Theatre (written about by Bernett Belgraier here for ND) and that fabulous night at the Capitol in December -- and for their outdoor gigs in the summer (gutted that they're not in the 2016 lineup -- yet -- for my favorite, Mountain Jam). Being in Washington on a very quiet afternoon, with Pennsylvania Avenue and the Mall nearly visitor-free, was a grand get-set. We walked the Mall in lovely weather, and on into the Willard Hotel (whose preponderance of politicians in the ornate lobby gave us the term "lobbying") and had an early table at the fine old Occidental Grill. Dancing for close to four hours can do you in if you haven't been properly fed, and oh my, we were.
The show was a double set, and the Warner Theatre a golden show palace well suited to Tedeschi Trucks: a broad stage for the huge band; comfortable seats in which no one sat; lovely antique detail everywhere; and superb acoustics. If you can't hear Tedeschi's gorgeous torrent of a voice, and Trucks' guitar, what would the point be? TTB regularly schedule in places with fine acoustics -- the Beacon, the Cap, the upcoming gig at NJPAC -- and we fans are most grateful for this.
I heard the band on the third of a three-night stand. They were relaxed and happy and looking forward to a little break before playing the Ryman on March 3, and they set out with something wonderfully weird: The Beatles' "Within You, Without You." Trucks got to kick things off with his Harrisonian riffs -- I would dearly love to hear him on a sitar sometime -- while Tedeschi, Mark Rivers, and the sublime Mike Mattison trilled out the lyric. The next time someone asks you what anybody can do that's worthwhile with an English degree, even one from an Ivy League school, point to Harvard graduate Mattison (lead vocalist for Scrapomatic and the Derek Trucks Band).
This tour is in support of their new album, Let Me Get By (2016). In the first set, they played a number of songs from it -- "Just As Strange" (into which "Within You, Without You" melts), "Laugh about It" -- but also some almighty covers: the aforementioned Beatles, Derek and the Dominos, Son House, Bobby "Blue" Bland. TTB are confident about their music; it stands up in a mix with the masters, whose music they perform with love and skill. They've been playing Bland's "That Did It" for years, and may they do so for years to come. "Don't Miss Me" let the superb horn section shout and shine.
My two favorite numbers were both in the second set, though: Leon Russell's "Delta Lady," rendered both raw and otherworldly by Mattison; and "Midnight In Harlem." Surely their most-loved song, particularly when they do it in New York, "Midnight In Harlem" was written by Trucks and Mattison, and released in 2011 on their first record, Revelator. Five years old and it's a classic already, a rare and special thing for a band with many, many miles still to come.
It's hard to think of such a big group of people, from the married couple fronting TTB to their ten- or eleven-strong bandmates (seen above around a tiny NPR desk this week) who seem to have more fun making music together, even with an almighty lot of time on the road.
Cherish this fairly new-come, but entirely proven jam band as one of the last of the greatest jam bands. Stay tuned to @DerekAndSusan on Twitter for gems like yesterday's slap-happy romp "I Love Japan," an ode to where they are now. Hear them when they come to you, and go to them when you feel like it: they'll be playing, somewhere out there.