Live Review

Tedeschi Trucks: They're an American Band

Tedeschi Trucks Band on September 30, 2016

in full swing, via @derekandsusan on Instagram

An Appreciation of Six Nights at New York’s Beacon Theater, Sept. 30th - Oct. 8th, 2016

Hey, friends! The degenerative state of our American political discourse got you down?  Feeling sort of humiliated in the eyes of the world?  Worried that we may descend any moment into civil war? Concerned that the country has plummeted to an unprecedented level of sniffling, sniveling, infantilized and fetishized, vapid inter- and intra-personal stupidity, soullessness, and rancor?

Yeah, I hear you.

But if you too were lucky enough to attend any (or, better yet, all) of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s residency at New York’s Beacon Theater earlier this month, you availed yourself of a therapeutic course of sweet relief.

For six nights from Sept 30th (a few days after the first Clinton/Trump presidential debate) to Oct 8th (one night before that hellacious second debate), TTB settled into the Upper West Side for a series of shows burning with such energy, soul, wisdom, dignity and humanity, as to enable you to regain some faith.

TTB continues to expand their repertoire of passionate covers and increasingly sophisticated originals (Let Me Get By, their third studio album and perhaps their best, was released earlier this year): largely drawn from American roots music (with heavy emphasis on rock, soul, blues, R&B, gospel, and now executed with more jazz); all created or reconsidered for this particular ensemble of 12 (let alone when guests come along); and, of course, replete with World Music influences, especially the Eastern devotional music that inspires much of Trucks’s work.

I would argue that no 12-piece musical entity working today – and by that I mean out on the road perhaps ¾ of the year, internationally and in the US — is doing more to bring attention to this great American music and its forebears than TTB.

Tedeschi’s powerful voice has never soared higher, dug deeper, reached farther; Trucks’ playing has never seemed more joyfully grounded in his signature jazz/blues/rock Eastern fusion, and no one makes a guitar sound as much like a human voice as the self-disciplined, self-contained Trucks.

Watching Trucks, one couldn’t help but think of the proverb about idle hands being the devil’s workshop: ergo, there was an abundance of Godliness on that stage (a sharp contrast to what is going on all around us politically). In a recent interview with a Florida publication, a question was posed to Tedeschi and Trucks about separating business from family. Trucks responded with his hallmark simple profundity, from a no bullshit guy who has always seemed wise beyond his years, declaring that there is nothing about their music or what they do for a living that is “unhealthy or unholy” and that it wasn’t something they had to “wash off.”

I don’t think they’ve ever asked more of themselves and of us, their audiences, as they did during this Beacon run. This was especially true of the double set nights which started pretty much on time (8 p.m.) and let out near-midnight, with about 30 to 45 minute intermissions.

TTB stretched, flexed and worked their improvisational muscles in the tradition of the great jam bands, including the now retired Derek Trucks Band and, of course, the Allman Brothers (RIP) which had for years occupied the Beacon for nearly a month each March, and from which Trucks (and Warren Haynes, who joined TTB onstage the penultimate night of this Beacon run) departed in 2014.

A musician once told me that people primarily become musicians so they can hang out and play with other musicians.  The TTB family makes you want to get up there like a fool and embarrass yourself silly —  all for the sheer thrill of co-existing with them, if even for a brief moment in time, in that musical dimension that kept many of us coming back for all six nights.

The residency also allowed ample opportunities for all other band members to shine with their singular talents. It’s well known that Tedeschi and Trucks are generous bandleaders who value camaraderie; they root for the best of anyone sharing the stage with them.

The accomplished bass guitarist Tim Lefebvre, who became a permanent member of the rhythm section after several interim bassists had toured with the band for a few years,  is tucked somewhere between the drum kits and the keyboards. For some audience members, he’s not entirely visible. This is a shame because some of the most enticing business happens when Trucks, who can keep you wondering what he’s thinking, meanders over to an animated Lefebvre. From some parts of the house, at times, you can really, really hear — more so than other times or from other parts of the house — Lefebvre’s bass lines.  When you do, you get a whole new appreciation for the extraordinary and fundamental value of his work and how a song, containing multitudes, hinges upon it. 

As for the drumming of J.J. Johnson and Tyler “Falcon” Greenwell, well, nothing says it better than the sight of Tedeschi and Trucks standing in reverence, watching Johnson and Falcon do a double drumming solo as they work in precision sync; each drummer’s eyes fixed on the eyes of the other, taking their cues from some other sense that we pedestrians know little about.  Often, the audience held its collective breath as if watching a high wire act.

Since TTB was founded in 2010, Mike Mattison, who was a member of the Derek Trucks Band and fronts his band, Scrapomatic, has been essential as a vocalist, musician and writer. “Midnight in Harlem,” his masterpiece, is always a high point of any set in which it’s played, and, as you can imagine, is given a rapacious reception whenever it’s played in the New York area (look for the beautiful video of TTB doing it at the Apollo Theater in Harlem). Second only to Trucks, Mattison is Tedeschi's musical partner; it’s clear she trusts and relies on him unwaveringly. During this run, he had many more chances to step on out there, front and center, as a vocalist. He lifted the audience with his energetic, funky rasp and made them scream and shout.

Repeat audience members came to anticipate and demonstrably welcome the distinguished vocals of Alecia Chakour (feminine, fiery and forceful), and Mark Rivers (rich, silky and earthy). When Tedeschi would migrate to the backup platform, you found yourself imagining how much fun it would be to join that cohort up there, tambourine in hand.

Kofi Burbridge, on keyboards and flute, also formerly of the Derek Trucks Band, is in a league of his own. He’s always had a prominent role in driving the band’s funkiness. No one can get people up out of their seats, dancing, the way he can. In my fantasy where TTB revisits The Concert for Bangladesh, Burbridge is of course cast as Billy Preston (no, I have no idea if he can dance).

More and more sweeping instrumental improvisations are being used in song intros, transitions and segues, gifting us with additional killer solos from Kebbi Williams on a wild, wailing sax. To everyone’s delight, he whipped himself into a frenzy and the Beacon audiences could not get enough of it. And, let me tell you what most people in that audience were thinking: If you’ve never before had the slightest inkling to pick up a trombone, watching tigress Elizabeth Lea will make you want to.  Since she joined the band in 2015, we’ve watched this woman express her complete and utter delight of being consumed, body and soul, by the music. Ephraim Owens, who first joined the band during their Joe Cocker MD&E project, and is sandwiched between Williams and Lea, is a muscular improvisational trumpet player who also melds beautifully with his horn brethren.

There are several resources out there to view video, audio and set lists.

Just to give you the gist of it, some highlights organized by day follow. On any given day, my selections change and I know I’ll kick myself for leaving so much out.  

Friday Sept 30th:  Amy Ray opener (and joining TTB for night’s encore)

During her opening set Tedeschi joined Ray and sang on Ray’s original ode to Duane Allman, the late slide guitarist to which Derek Trucks is most compared, having picked up that ABB mantle (and, on occasion, Duane Allman’s actual guitar) for many years.

From the lyrics of “Duane Allman”

She said, Man it ain’t never gonna be the same

You know I’ll give ‘em a chance but

No one can play like Duane. . . .

TTB took the stage after an intermission following Ray’s set.  Trucks beamed a beautiful smile to the audience, and you’d like to think that this born and bred Floridian feels more than a little bit at home here, just across the street from Fairway.

TTB’s set included Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” (which they are doing a lot these days) and their original “Don’t Drift Away.”   Blind Faith’s blistering “Had to Cry Today,” recently added to their shows, was a thrill from the first recognizable chord. Personally speaking, the band can never do enough George Harrison. (In addition to my aforementioned fantasy about Bangladesh, I’d love them to do with All Things Must Pass what they did with Mad Dogs and Englishmen.  Isn’t it a Pity, indeed!)

Some great videos from this set:

Don’t Know What it Means/Keep on Growing

How Blue Can You Get

Had to Cry Today

You Ain’t Goin Nowhere

Saturday, Oct 1: 2-set night

Guests: Tash Neal, Chris St. Hilaire (London Souls), and Junior Mack.

In between “Crying Over You” and “Fire and Rain,” Tedeschi announced that Falcon, who was turning 40 after midnight, had busted his bass drum.  She let out a triumphant “Whoooa!” before telling us that Falcon would take five.  {Now, we don’t really know what part of the drum broke, or what happened exactly, but if this video of Falcon murdering a cardboard box during a TTB “Soul Sacrifice” rehearsal (at Bethel Woods) is any indication, we can figure out the rest.}

Bound For Glory

Tues, Oct 4th

Dave Mason Opener

Dave Mason and his band played some signature Traffic tunes including “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.”  He offered up his solo hit, “We Just Disagree,” after announcing it was time for him to be “an insensitive son of a bitch.” The set’s closer was “All Along the Watchtower.”

TTB’s set included Eric Krasno, who plays often with the band. Dave Mason and his band joined in at the end of the evening.  The Beacon erupted when the keyboards played the familiar notes of “Feelin’ Alright,” and a giant New York sing-a-long ensued to lead us out of the Beacon. 

Wed. Oct 5th

Jorma Kaukonen opens for TTB

TTB Special Guests: Luther Dickinson (and Kaukonen)

Kaukonen did a riveting acoustic guitar set that included chestnuts “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.”  He would join TTB at the end of the evening.

By far, the highlight of this night had to be “I’ve Got a Feeling: (listen to the horns!) segueing into the great Allman Brothers number, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”

Kaukonen joined in for the finale, “Let’s Go Get Stoned.”

Friday, Oct. 7th: 2-set night

A rousing “Let Me Get By” into “Midnight in Harlem”

Warren Haynes, former Allman Brother and front man of Gov’t Mule,  joined TTB for a mini-set late in the show: “Preaching Blues,” “Keep On Growing,” “Soul Serenade,” “It Hurts Me Too,” and “Had To Cry Today.”

Final Show, Sat Oct. 8: 2-set night

The final show included several Harrison, Lennon-McCartney tunes.

Guests: Doyle Bramhall II

Tedeschi channeled her inner Howlin’ Wolf by playing Hubert Sumlin’s guitar on “Honest I Do”

What would the final set be without a Sly Stone medley?

That night, with Tedeschi’s voice still in my head from the last few numbers of their set, I had the strangest dream: I was standing downstage at the Beacon, facing only Trucks, a spotlight hovering over him but blackness otherwise all around.  Given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say something, express to him my utmost admiration and gratitude, all I managed to idiotically blurt out was: “Hey, Derek, how is it you can get away with never having to utter a single boom shaka laka laka, boom shaka laka laka?”

He never responded in words, but, as is his wont, gave a definitive nod of his head and, with guitar strapped on, raised his arm then swung it gently but purposefully downward, as the lights came up and the band launched into song. 

Only a few weeks more of having to endure this election; only seven months before tickets go on sale for TTB’s Beacon 2017 residency. 

At some point they’ll be playing near you.  Election Schmelection: be a true patriot.  Go see ‘em.


Derek Trucks – Guitar

Susan Tedeschi – Guitar & Vocals

Kofi Burbridge – Keyboards & Flute

Tyler Greenwell – Drums & Percussion

J.J. Johnson – Drums & Percussion

Tim Lefebvre – Bass Guitar

Mike Mattison – Harmony Vocals

Mark Rivers – Harmony Vocals

Alecia Chakour – Harmony Vocals

Kebbi Williams – Saxophone

Elizabeth Lea – Trombone

Ephraim Owens – Trumpet

Special Guests/Opening Acts: Amy Ray, Dave Mason, Luther Dickinson, Jorma Kaukonen, Warren Haynes, Eric Krasno, Tash Neal, Chris St. Hilaire, Doyle Bramhall II