Concert review: Tedeschi Trucks Band, Dec. 3 at The Orpheum Theatre, 1 Hamilton Place, Boston
One overlooked aspect of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, that marvelous group fronted by Norwell’s Susan Tedeschi and her husband, the nonpareil guitarist Derek Trucks, is how they’ve always charted their own course. In a time when travel expenses are high and most bands shy away from adding extra personnel, the TTB is determined to maintain its 12-person lineup, which they envisioned in the mode of the legendary 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen outfit led by Joe Cocker and Leon Russell. And all the musicians playing with them are so much a part of the creative process that turnover is minimal, and concert fans know each member gets regular turns in the spotlight.
In the past year, when the album as a work of musical art seems to be on the wane, replaced by singles or three-or-four-song EPs, TTB was still determined to unleash a remarkable long-form album. They composed and recorded a work, “I Am the Moon,” based on a 12th-century Persian poem that covers four albums, which were released once a month beginning in June. Partly, to be sure, it was a project that grew out of the pandemic and everyone being off the road, but it is also a bold step forward that seemingly went against most prevailing trends. What was the last best-selling concept album, for instance? Yet once again the TTB’s new work has earned plaudits everywhere.
All of which is just more reason to appreciate the TTB, which closed out its 2022 touring schedule Saturday night before an adoring, sold-out crowd of 2,800 at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. It was a four-night run at the venerable Boston edifice. The TTB has been just as popular as ever on the concert front, having concluded a triumphant European tour on Nov. 15. If online sources are correct, Saturday’s finale was the band’s 102nd show of the year, a two-hour, 45-minute concert split between two sets. The concerts have featured a hefty dose of the new albums, and the way the new music fits neatly into their rock/blues/jazz/soul sweet spot makes it all seem like a logical continuum.
How the TTB ended up recording the song cycle − 24 new tunes over the four CDs − is a story that harkens back to the classic rock and blues they grew up on. When Eric Clapton included “Layla” on the Derek and the Dominoes album, he took the song’s name from this 12th-century Persian poem. The poem depicts a star-crossed couple, where the young girl’s parents forbid the romance and seclude the girl from public life, while the young fellow travels the desert searching in vain for his love. There are obvious Romeo and Juliet similarities, and we’ll spare you the tabloid tales that made Clapton feel the poem was an apt reflection of his own situation circa 1970. But as a metaphor for the way so many felt during the pandemic, frustrated by isolation and longing for normal human connection, the themes in the poem resonated with the TTB and their musicians, and provided a solid basis for new music.
Saturday’s 20 songs included eight from the new work, a fine sample from the band’s previous albums (six studio albums and three live albums), and some nice surprises among cover songs. For example, not only is Joni Mitchell’s “River” a moving song that references Christmas, but when Tedeschi did it with just Gabe Dixon’s electric piano, as she softly trilled the tune’s highest notes, the audience erupted in loud cheers. It was not just an exquisitely beautiful performance, but also just the fourth time the TTB has done that 1971 song, from Mitchell’s “Blue” album.
Later, in the second set, Tedeschi delivered a more recent gem, a barn burner of a cover of Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times.” Her range and vocal control was so jaw-droppingly potent on the pop-rocker that you had to believe even Styles would have to agree it was never done better. And once again, it appears Saturday was only the fifth time the band has done that song in concert, making it a real treat for the Boston crowd.
Saturday’s first set lasted just under an hour, beginning with the loping blues of “I Got a Feeling,” and quickly moving into the new music with “Playing with My Emotion,” a torrid soul-rock march from the second volume (“Ascension”) where the horn section of Kebbi Williams on sax, Ephraim Owens on trumpet, and Elizabeth Lea on trombone really added rhythmic punch. The soaring Memphis-style torch song “Until You Remember,” from the band’s 2011 “Revelator” album, was the night’s first chance for Tedeschi to showcase her interpretative ability. But then it was time to rock out, and, speaking of Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Saturday’s charge through “The Letter” was the wildest and most visceral take we’ve ever heard. Somewhere, Joe Cocker is smiling broadly.
Keyboardist Dixon took the lead vocal on “Gravity,” an easy rolling ballad from the third volume of the new work (“The Fall”), while Trucks’ slide guitar accents amped the tune up to a fiery finish. Dixon and Tedeschi shared vocals on the title cut for the new work, “I Am the Moon,” a soulful ballad where the yearning is palpable. Trucks had the spotlight on the instrumental “Pasaquan” from the first volume (“Crescent”) with a stripped-down quintet, a composition that began as spacey tones and grew into the kind of muscular jazz-rock fusion that showed you Trucks has loved some Jeff Beck and Al DiMeola. That first set ended with Tedeschi’s tender and mesmerizing version of “River.”
The late set began with two tunes from the first volume, the smooth soul stroll “Hear My Dear,” and the wonderfully loopy “Fall In,” a sly swing-blues sung by vocalist Mike Mattison in a style that evoked 1930s vaudeville. Trucks used a bit of chicken-scratch guitar, set against the sax, to frame the Memphis-style R&B of “Part of Me,” from the band’s 2013 “Made Up Mind” album, sung by Tedeschi in tandem with the superb Alecia Chakour.
“Yes We Will” comes from the third volume of the new work, and is a soothing ballad meant to remember the late Kofi Burbridge (TTB keyboardist until his 2019 death), whose image was projected onto the stage backdrop, as Tedeschi and Dixon shared the lead vocals. Tedeschi introduced “Soul Sweet Song,” from the fourth volume, as a song meant to “For B.B. King, and to save the planet.” The song is a lively soul-rocker, and Tedeschi took the guitar solos on it, proving she hasn’t lost any of her mastery of the six strings. Mattison sang again on a funky cover of Taj Mahal’s “Everybody’s Got to Change Sometime.”
“Midnight in Harlem” is always a highlight of a TTB concert, from the surreal intro authored by Trucks to the buttery soul vocal from Tedeschi, as jazzy undertones give it all a special flair. A gritty cover of “That Did It,” a tune made popular by Bobby Blue Bland, was a neat surprise. After Tedeschi’s vocal tour de force on that Styles song, the regular set ended with the medley of “The Storm” morphing into the Allman Brothers classic “Whipping Post.” The indelible moment there was when Trucks broke a string in the midst of his most intense sequence, and just nodded to Dixon and stepped back to replace it. The keyboardist deftly provided a sizzling solo until Trucks was ready to bring the song to its blazing conclusion.
The TTB threw a curveball for its encores, bringing out backup singer Mark Rivers to take the lead on a funkified version of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” with Tedeschi adding some help. Rivers stayed in the spotlight for a rousing gallop through the old Joe Tex soul-rocker “Show Me” where seemingly everyone from the horn section to the dual drummers (Tyler Greenwell and Isaac Eady) and bassist (Brandon Boone) joined in the frolic. It felt like we’d all just attended a weekend music festival, but it was never less than invigorating, the new music fit in seamlessly, and the TTB’s front couple are as dazzling as ever.
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This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Tedeschi Trucks Band takes a full complement of musicians on the road