Concert Preview: The Tedeschi Trucks Band — Touring With Swagger

By Scott McLennan

Susan Tedeschi has developed a way to assert her powerhouse presence without upending the overall balance of the big band.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band is simultaneously heading into uncharted territory and looking back on its roots these days.

The 12-piece ensemble led by Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi is making its headlining debuts at both TD Garden in Boston and Madison Square Garden in New York City. Those shows hit a few days after the 25th-anniversary rerelease of Tedeschi’s break out album Just Won’t Burn, which set in motion her career path that eventually crossed that of Trucks.

Tedeschi and Trucks married in 2001, long before they joined together as bandmates. The couple makes its home in Jacksonville, Florida, which is where native Bostonian Tedeschi was recently reached by phone.

The release of Just Won’t Burn in 1998 lit up not only the Boston music scene but also caught on with the national blues audience. It helped establish the fledgling Tone-Cool record label and put drummer Tom Hambridge on the map as a producer and writer who went on to make big records with Buddy Guy. (He is still at it, producing breakout records for Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and others.) Just Won’t Burn also introduced many to the work of fiery young guitarist Sean Costello, who would make five albums of his own over the ensuing decade before his tragic death in 2008.

Given that fabled past, and that the Tedeschi Trucks Band in recent years has been reviving some of the recording’s songs in concert, it just seemed right to celebrate the album by rereleasing it with additional tracks. The new version adds two outtakes: Tedeschi’s cover of Koko Taylor’s “Voodoo Woman” and her original tune “Waste of My Time.” There’s also an alternate studio version of “Looking for Answers,” plus live versions of “Just Won’t Burn” and “Looking for Answers” performed last year by the Tedeschi Trucks Band.

Just Won’t Burn earned Tedeschi a Best New Artist Grammy nomination in 2000 (she, Kid Rock, Britney Spears, and Macy Gray lost to Christina Aguilera). Over time the album has gone on to attain platinum status, meaning more than one million copies sold.

But one of the more surprising of the album’s accomplishments, Tedeschi said, is the enduring reception for her version of “Angel From Montgomery” that is on Just Won’t Burn.

“I included that as my tribute to John Prine and Bonnie Raitt. To me, that song is theirs. But it has been requested whenever I play, solo or with the band,” Tedeschi said.

Tedeschi said that Fiona Prine, John’s widow, asked her to sing “Angel From Montgomery” at the Ryman Theater in Nashville next month as part of the You Got Gold tribute to the legendary songwriter who died in 2020.

Tedeschi admitted that it required an adjustment on her part when she and guitar virtuoso Trucks shelved their individual bands and formed their current ensemble in 2010. “It definitely took time to adjust. I enjoyed being my own boss. Now I’m in a band with my husband who is a workaholic,” she said. “And this band is his vision. There was a bit of an ego thing for me at first.”

Susan Tedeschi today. Photo: CJ Strehlow and Rahm Carrington

Tedeschi Trucks Band is a big ensemble that embraces a big sound. All manner of American roots music filters through the band, yet the songwriting flaunts a contemporary edge and sensibility.

Tedeschi said the artistic payoff for sticking to that ambitious vision is that she is a better all-around musician. She credits her early training with opera teachers for being able to keep her voice in fine form. But being in the TTB, with its three horn players, three vocalists, two drummers, bass player, and keyboard player, and co-leading that group with one of the best guitar players on the planet, has, in her words, “made me a better sideman. A better songwriter. A better guitar player.”

Tedeschi agreed that there was a shift in dynamics in the band following the death of original keyboard player Kofi Burbride in 2019. Burbridge was a longtime member of Trucks’s solo band brought into the TTB and was responsible for many of the arrangements the band developed.

“Derek and Kofi had an incredible relationship that started before this band. Kofi and I were close, but he and Derek had something really special. When Kofi died, Derek and I grew closer in terms of setting the direction of the band. Derek now enjoys seeing me taking more solos and showing off more,” she said.

Tedeschi has developed a way to assert her powerhouse presence without upending the overall balance of the big band. For example, this summer, whenever the band opened a concert with Joe Cocker’s “Woman to Woman” Tedeschi would make a grand entrance mid-song, boosting the slinky tune into overdrive. But it was more badass than showbiz.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band. Photo: David McClister

Together for more than a decade now, and with its renowned multi-album I Am the Moon project out in the world for more than a year, the Tedeschi Trucks Band has earned the right to swagger. Some of that bravado has become part of its touring routine. Rather than performing its customary multishow residencies at New York City’s Beacon Theater and Boston’s Orpheum Theater, this year the band is folding everything up into two shows, one in each of those city’s premier arenas.

The band first plays the TD Garden in Boston on Wednesday, September 27, and then Madison Square Garden in New York on Friday, September 29.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real will open both of the so-called Garden Parties. Tedeschi recalled first meeting Nelson when he was 10 years old, tagging along with his father Willie at a show.

And TTB recently announced that Warren Haynes will be a special guest in Boston, while Trey Anastasio and Norah Jones will be joining the party in New York City. Haynes and Trucks played together in the Allman Brothers Band from 2000 until the band’s finale in 2014, balancing that work with the respective groups they were leading throughout that period.

Anastasio and TTB joined forces in 2019 to perform the Derek and the Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs in its entirety at the Lockn’ Festival (that performance was eventually released in 2021). Recently, Trucks sat in with Anastasio’s main band, Phish, taking a deep dive into the jam band milieu.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band in action. Photo: Stuart Levine

Jones and Tedeschi have been friendly since first meeting early in their respective careers at one of the Walden Pond benefit concerts organized by Don Henley.

“We were the two singers nobody knew,” Tedeschi said, noting it was before the release of Jones’s mega-hit album Come Away With Me. “One minute nobody knows you, next minute everybody knows you. But we stayed in touch, and she is so down to earth.”

Jones joined the TTB on stage to sing “Love Has No Pride” when the band celebrated its 25th performance at the Beacon Theater in 2017.

The Garden Parties are the final US shows on the books for TTB, which has been touring relentlessly over the past two years. The group heads to Japan for shows there in October. Following that, Trucks and Tedeschi have scheduled a few appearances, including the multiday Dead Ahead Festival set for January in Cancun, Mexico, where they will join Bob Weir’s band one night. (Interestingly enough, the first time Tedeschi was a featured performer in the Boston Garden — or Fleet Center, as it was known at the time — was when she toured with members of the Grateful Dead – or The Other Ones as they were known at the time — in 2002).

Online, some fans have worried that the shelving of the band’s beloved multishow residencies — at least for this year — along with a focus on Tedeschi’s solo album means impending changes for the larger group. They shouldn’t fret too much.

Tedeschi said the TTB members will be writing and working on new material in January. Her plans to perform solo shows in the early part of 2024 to celebrate the rerelease of Just Won’t Burn are on hold because some interesting tour offers for the Tedeschi Trucks Band recently popped up.

“We have a lot of plans for TTB,” she assured me.

Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Portland Press Herald, and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.

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