Concert review — At Jefferson Center, Tedeschi Trucks Band brings vocal and musical fireworks to Jefferson Center
By Tad Dickens | 777-6474
In two years, Tedeschi Trucks Band has already built what most bands never will, even after decades.
Eleven members strong, with virtuosos on both the front and back lines, the act pumps blues, rock and soul with dynamic intensity and open ears. It stays grounded in the songs it plays while allowing room for multiple on-fire soloists and frequent dips into near chaos.
It has been two years since the band, led by singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi and guitarist Derek Trucks, first played Roanoke. At the 2010 Down by the River Festival, one of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s earliest shows, the group revealed an intriguing blueprint. At Jefferson Center’s 2012-2013 Star City Performance Series opener on Tuesday night, the band delivered the completed building.
The sold-out crowd of 900 responded enthusiastically, breaking out in mini-standing ovations during several points in the show. The audience cheered wildly for favorite vocal lines — Tedeschi did not miss a note all night, and her power and range remained stunning — as well as for particularly incendiary instrumental solos.
At the heart of the it all was the clear idea that this was a building still open to near constant creative renovation above the bedrock foundation.
The work began at the front door, with set-opening “Don’t Let Me Slide.” Where listeners who knew the song from the band’s debut album, “Revelator,” might have expected Trucks’ stinging slide guitar work to follow Tedeschi’s powerful vocal, the band’s three horn players instead played a harmonized lead.
Then Trucks did his work, the band ascending with him as he released the quicksilver, flawless but gritty slide work that has made him one of the country’s most revered guitarists.
Similar surprises would follow through about 90 minutes and one encore. On the slacker-anthem shuffle “Bound For Glory,” one of the band’s most popular numbers, organist/keyboard player Kofi Burbridge began a solo rooted in Sunday soul and took it into free jazz territory while his brother, bassist Oteil Burbridge, anticipated his moves and delivered walking lines that helped lift the madness another few steps.
Kofi Burbridge, who arranges the band’s horn lines, brought out his flute for a trip into the Derek Trucks Band back catalog. On the the Sahara-feeling “Mahjoun,” with only Trucks and the band’s drummers behind him, he floated and stabbed over the modal roll of a 6/8 feel.
The band continued throwing change-ups. On the band’s second CD, the live “Everybody’s Talking,” the song “Love Has Something Else to Say” takes a detour into Bill Wither’s “When I’m Kissing My Love,” a vocal tour de force for trombonist Saunders Sermons. On Tuesday, though, Kebbi Williams and his saxophone took over with rapid-fire blowing that sent the song into a jazz stratosphere.
Oteil Burbridge would blister a bass solo during the band’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight,” singing his trademark space-jazz harmonies along the way. Underneath the part-roiling, part mournful bass work, Kofi Burbridge played his organ’s bass keys while drummers J.J. Johnson and Tyler “The Falcon” Greenwell smacked a 7/4 groove that transitioned into a freak-tribe double-drum duet.
Harmony singer Mike Mattison reprised a couple of Derek Trucks Band gems — a rousing version of the R&B classic “I Know” and a blistering “Get What You Deserve.”
With so much going on, it might have been easy to forget who was actually fronting this band.
It wasn’t that Tedeschi didn’t make great use out of her often-transcendent voice and rip into plenty of Chicago-style guitar leads, to boot. She blasted them both on the Howlin’ Wolf classic “Rollin’ and Tumblin.’”
And it wasn’t that Trucks didn’t use both his slide and his fretting fingers to show continuing instrumental mastery. His solos on “Get What You Deserve” could have lit a carton of Kool Kings at 500 paces.
Those are, after all, their names on the marquee. But it is obviously a band to them, not some simple vehicle for them to show off ad nauseam. And the rest of the band was the same — laid back or guts-out, depending on the song, and deeply complementary underneath the solo work from so many different instrumental voices.
In less capable hands, it might have been a train wreck. With Tedeschi Trucks Band, it was a work of live art.
Mattison, who brought “Bound For Glory” and the haunting “Midnight In Harlem” to the band, opened the show as part of his own band, Scrapomatic. He and his bandmates, guitarists Paul Olsen and Dave Yoke, played a well-received set that included songs from the band’s new CD, “I’m A Stranger (And I Love The Night).
Mattison’s versatile voice reminded listeners through Scrapomatic’s 30-minute set why his work in the Derek Trucks Band was so beloved. And Yoke provided the night’s early guitar sparks, accompanied with taste and strength by Olsen, who with Mattison writes most of the band’s material.
Scrapomatic played its own 2010 show in Roanoke, at Martin’s Downtown Bar & Grill. But with Emmylou Harris at Jefferson Center that night, the trio didn’t get the audience it deserved. It got that audience on Tuesday night, and the crowd gave the band’s diverse set — Tin Pan Alley and the Mississippi Delta were both represented — an enthusiastic response.