Concert Review: The Tedeschi Trucks Band — A Triumph in the Arenas
By Scott McLennan
The bottom line: the Tedeschi Trucks Band proved that the group, and its hybrid of classic rock, soul, blues, and jazz, could rule on arena stages.
There are those who insist that the Tedeschi Trucks Band is the best live act out there right now. And then there are those who simply haven’t yet seen the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
OK, hyperbole like that has been common among the crowd that has been supporting TTB since it emerged in 2010, when married couple Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi ceded their respective solo bands to a joint venture that has grown into a 12-member juggernaut. This is a juggernaut that boasts the electrifying musicianship of world-class players, a Grammy, and an ambitious creative appetite that has maintained the steady growth of the band’s repertoire. Over the years, TTB has accumulated the artistic clout that has made it a band that other musicians want to work with.
Still, the Tedeschi Trucks Band has never really broken through to the level of commercial recognition achieved by classic rock forbears such as Eric Clapton and the Allman Brothers Band, or attained the cachet shared by such contemporary arena-packers as Phish and the Dave Matthews Band. Neither has it garnered the fresh buzz generated by young upstarts such as Billy Strings.
Part of the reason for that is that the band is a victim of timing. The sun has set on rock’s golden era of the ’70s, and that is where, stylistically, much of the TTB catalog lives. That means that the band has never gotten the expansive airplay and other exposure given to Clapton or the Allmans. On the other hand, Trucks’s longtime membership in the Allmans and Tedeschi’s tenure along the blues circuit kept the band from developing the kind of young, organically developed audience that literally grows up on the music and supports it for decades, à la Phish and Matthews.
Despite that, the Tedeschi Trucks Band finally said, “Let’s just go for it” and booked the Garden Parties — one night at the TD Garden in Boston on September 27 and one night at Madison Square Garden in New York City on September 29.
These big arena shows replaced beloved fall rituals of multinight residencies at the Beacon Theater in New York and the Orpheum Theater in Boston. Moving from performance spaces that would often be filled with many repeat customers to premiere in arenas that seat closer to 20,000 patrons per show is a big leap, especially without the aid of a hit single or some other hook that appeals to new audience members.
Yet, without question, the band pulled it off, entering the Garden Parties into official Tedeschi Trucks Band lore alongside such hallmarks as performing “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” with Leon Russell in 2015, and doing a complete rendition of the album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs in 2019.
As the band typically did with its Beacon shows, TTB included guests at each Garden Party. And, like the Orpheum runs, the arena shows surveyed all that the band had done over the course of the year, including new songs it had pulled into the repertoire and ever-evolving arrangements of original material.
Both Garden Parties featured Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real playing an hour-long opening set. TTB’s set ran longer than two and a half hours at each concert.
In Boston, Trucks’s old Allman Brothers Band guitar foil Warren Haynes joined the proceedings. In New York, Phish main man Trey Anastasio was featured on three songs and Norah Jones on two others.
But despite the help, TTB proved that it belonged on those big stages all on its own.
The band opened its Boston set with Joe Cocker’s “Woman to Woman,” a cover they started playing over the summer. Via a bit of dramatic flair, Tedeschi emerges mid-song to boost the tune to another level.
While Tedeschi is a dazzling singer and guitarist who can hold an arena-sized audience rapt (TD Garden was about 80 percent full), it was Trucks who seemed to be working on overdrive in Boston.
Trucks is more than an incredible guitar player. He is easily one of the best playing right now and without doubt should be considered when talking about the all-time greats. The truth is, Trucks is a visionary musician. While infusing a contemporary viewpoint, he has transformed the band into a unique, multifaceted purveyor of various styles of American roots music.
In Boston, Trucks’s soloing was staggering from song to song. But the structure of the set list was equally impressive. Trucks skillfully linked together various phases of the band’s history, blending longtime fan favorites “Midnight in Harlem” and “Bound For Glory” with powerful new songs from the expansive I Am the Moon project, including “Fall In” and “Hear My Dear.”
In one particularly poignant passage, Trucks and sax player Kebbi Williams used the new “Circles Around the Sun” to engage in a back-and-forth of solos played with such physical frenzy that the horn player lost his glasses. That led to an even wilder free-jazz exploration in which Trucks engaged the remainder of the horn section, trombone player Elizabeth Lea and trumpet player Ephraim Owens, pushing them to an exhilarating finale. From there the band smoothly pivoted to the stone blues of “Just Won’t Burn,” a Tedeschi original from her break-out solo album of the same name which has just been rereleased in a nice 25th-anniversary package. (Arts Fuse interview)
Tedeschi’s powerful vocals reached all points of the arena — probably the biggest challenge in moving from a theater — and her natural star power was woven into the overall mix of horns, vocals, keys, drums, and bass. Digging into fun oldies, such as Wet Willie’s “Keep on Smiling” and The Faces’ “Stay With Me,” Tedeschi’s delivery hooked you while the rest of the band made those songs pop.
Haynes joined about three-quarters of the way into the set and, to the surprise of no one, leaned into songs by the Allman Brothers as well as covers that were part of that band’s repertoire. Haynes first lit into an extended version of the Allmans’ “Dreams.” What was surprising was just how exploratory he and Trucks became, meshing and sparring with their distinctive yet complementary guitar styles on a number they played countless times during their 14-year partnership in the Allmans. The two didn’t even pause when doling out guitar fury — Haynes’s solo shifted straight right into Trucks’s.
In a bit of a left turn, Haynes then led the ensemble through Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” and he seemed to be venturing into some deep well of inspiration for his wild solo work. (He and Tedeschi belting out the song’s “It’s too late to stop now” refrain was also kinda perfect).
Haynes concluded his main sit-in time sharing vocal duties with Tedeschi on the Allmans’ hit “Blue Sky,” a song the players on stage — augmented now with Lukas Nelson on acoustic guitar — let unfold at a nice, natural pace.
The TTB carried on with a few more numbers, though the show may have had a smoother flow had Haynes closed the set rather than having his vibrant guest spot overshadow the numbers that followed, strong as they were. A three-song encore concluded with Haynes coming back on stage to assist with a wailing version of Dr. John’s “I Walk on Guilded Splinters.”
The Boston Garden Party made it clear that the TTB deserved to be on the big stage; the New York Garden Party proved that the TTB could sustain that stature via a completely different line of attack.
The number of tunes, as well as the selection of new songs versus old songs and original songs versus cover songs, was similar in both performances, but the New York concert proffered a more masterfully dynamic push and pull. Boston may have gotten a more inflamed version of Trucks on guitar; New York got to see a more sprawling and overtly kaleidoscopic iteration of the troupe.
The band led off with four original numbers, ranging from the spectral “Anyhow” to the playful “Part of Me,” the latter spotlighting singer Alecia Chakour. Trucks and Tedeschi engaged in a nice guitar duel in the middle of “Playing with My Emotions” and keyboard player Gabe Dixon set a rollicking pace to “Ain’t That Something.”
The heated-up Garden then erupted when singer Mike Mattison delivered the opening lines of the Rolling Stones’ “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker),” which is about the New York City police chasing a boy right through the park (And in a case of mistaken identity/They put a bullet through his heart”). The band introduced this song along its summer tour, and Mattison leads the band’s transformation of the number into a fierce, horn-fueled rave up.
Following a euphoric reading of the song “I Am the Moon,” Trucks concentrated his guitar prowess into a 20-minute version of the surging instrumental “Pasaquan.”
While Trucks and a smaller subset of the band burned up “Pasaquan,” Tedeschi changed outfits and returned with Jones in tow. Jones was seated at the keys, and she and Tedeschi worked up a beautiful duet of John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me.” After that sublime performance, the pair sprung into a high-stepping cover of Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me,” the full band blasting away around them.
TTB then did a bit of a Boston reset, revisiting cornerstone tracks “Midnight in Harlem,” “Made Up Mind” (singer Mark Rivers simply slays during his spotlight turn on this one), and “I Want More” (with Jeff Beck’s “Beck’s Bolero” tacked onto it) as a bridge into the show’s next big swell.
That tidal wave began quietly, with Tedeschi singing a crystalline version of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” aided only by Dixon and the rhythm section of bassist Brandon Boone and drummers Isaac Eady and Tyler Greenwell.
That set up Trucks to return with Anastasio for his guest sit-in, and they launched into a fiery, wholly unexpected version of The Who’s “The Seeker.”
Anastasio and the TTB have been tightly connected since they teamed up for that aforementioned performance of the Layla album at the 2019 Lockn’ Festival. Anastasio and the band returned to that moment to play not only “Bell Bottom Blues,” which TTB has kept in its repertoire, but also the anthemic “Layla” title track, which Trucks and company have not touched since that festival performance.
It was a glorious moment propelled by guitar orgies (Lukas Nelson was now out on stage for a four-guitar lineup), vocal wailing, and pure rock ’n’ roll fantasy — the big song for the big stage.
But the tank still wasn’t drained.
Nelson and Tedeschi teamed for a heartfelt duet on Leon Russell’s “Song For You.” In the past, Tedeschi used to sing that song solo, accompanied by keyboard player Kofi Burbridge, a founding member of the band who died in 2019 from complications of a heart condition.
When the rest of the band returned, the metaphorical spotlight remained on Burbridge as the TTB delivered “Soul Sweet Song,” a tune written in his honor. Then, to push the party over the top, Jones, Anastasio, and Nelson joined in with the band for a joyous, funky romp through a medley made up of Sly Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song” and “I Want to Take You Higher.”
The bottom line: TTB demonstrated that the band, and its hybrid of classic rock, soul, blues, and jazz, could rule on those big stages.
Having convincingly conquered both Garden Parties, the band announced from MSG’s stage-side video screens that it would be returning to the Beacon Theater for three shows, February 29 to March 2, 2024; no video screens required for great views.
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.