When the Tedsechi Trucks Band formed a decade ago, the group’s virtuosity was a given. Derek Trucks had already earned a reputation as one of the world’s greatest guitarists, a prodigy who joined the legendary, guitar-centric Allman Brothers Band before he turned 20, and the musicians he and his co-bandleader wife Susan Tedeschi have surrounded themselves with are all world-class players.
So heading into the TTB’s eighth annual Beacon Theatre residency, we knew they could play — and play they did Friday, with incendiary guitar work from Trucks, Tedeschi and guests Jimmy Herring and Doyle Bramhall; with a horn section that could channel Memphis and Sun Ra in the same song; with two drummers playing like one perfect and tasteful 4-handed jazz-rock monster. But the spirit in which the 12-piece collective connects with its music — and, in turn, its audience — is what makes the TTB special.
Drummers Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson laid down a swampy beat from which flowed the sweet and gentle show opener “Sitting in Limbo,” a Jimmy Cliff tune popularized by the Jerry Garcia Band. Tedeschi’s rich vocals welcomed the crowd like a warm blanket on an autumn morning, and Trucks plucked out a solo that was more supportive than showy; the band de-crescendoed to complete silence to end the song. It was the first time TTB played the song on stage.
A string of TTB originals followed. The band concluded the fun, bluesy rocker “Do I Look Worried,” by stopping on a dime as the lights flashed off. The celebratory soul of “Part of Me” recalled The Jackson 5 and gave the horn section (Kebbi Williams on sax, Elizabeth Lea on trombone and Ephraim Owens on trumpet) and dancing fans a good workout. “Anyhow,” a straight-ahead rocker, was powered by Tim Lefebvre’s propellant bass and decorated by a Kofi Burbridge flute solo. The drumming duo set a deep pocket for “High and Mighty,” a new TTB tune with swooning horns and Burbridge organ that brings to mind the late Gregg Allman. Harmony vocalists Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour tagged Tedeschi’s “I’m gonna soldier till we get there” line with their own “gonna soldier on.”
Mattison took lead vocals on Sleepy John Estes’ “Leavin’ Trunk,” which featured a Tedeschi guitar solo that drew big cheers. The song slipped into the first far-out moment of the night, the TTB’s take on jazz experimentalist Rashaan Roland Kirk’s “Volunteered Slavery,” including chant-like vocals and a sped-up rave. Burbridge’s flute solo punctuated the folky intro of “Idle Wind,” which put a spotlight on Chakour’s vocals and provided a dynamic drum feature and screaming Trucks guitar to close the opening set.
TTB kicked off set two with Derek and the Dominos’ “Tell The Truth,” Tedeschi taking a visceral, blues guitar solo, trading licks with Trucks. Spirit and technique were again perfectly matched on the relatively poppy, midtempo “Don’t Drift Away,” with Trucks’ linear solo capturing the feeling of Tedeschi’s singing. The triumphant “Let Me Get By” was another highlight, where Burbridge’s clavinet solo pushed the proceedings into the unknown, creepy bass and drums joining the fray and feral horns blasting until the song’s main riff was brought back to the fore. Trucks mentor and late jam-band godfather Col. Bruce Hampton would’ve dug it.
“Made Up Mind” — which would’ve had a great crack at mainstream radio play in the ‘70s — was catchy and fun, with feature spots for Burbridge on clavinet, Trucks and the drummers.
During a cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “I Pity the Fool,” Tedeschi testified like a preacher, ranting that she’s “sick and tired of all these fools making the rules.” “Too many fools,” she raved, “we can do it” and “stand up and say something.”
Longtime collaborator and friend Jimmy Herring emerged for the Allmans classic country rocker “Blue Sky,” revisiting the Allmans’ 2000-tour, Herring-Trucks guitar tandem that followed the ouster of Dickey Betts. Trucks soloed, then Herring (Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh & Friends, The Dead) paired with him for the song’s trademark twin leads. Herring then took a crystalline solo that grew in intensity, perfectly complementing Trucks, who unlike Herring primarily plays with a slide.
The Allman love wasn’t over, as the TTB and Herring slid into the tour de force instrumental “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” (Betts, who wrote both “Blue Sky” and “Liz Reed,” is recovering from brain surgery following an accident, so maybe this song pairing was intended as a tribute). The woozy horns mimicked the repeated two-note organ line as Trucks and Herring’s guitars crept around one another before things got funky, Herring riffing rhythmically while Trucks shredded. The smiles on the stage were contagious, and with the Allmans (who played their last-ever concert a few weeks shy of four years ago, also at the Beacon) officially out of commision, Betts’ health issues and the deaths of Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks, the performance took on an added heaviness. Herring, again, was the perfect sparring partner for Trucks, as his fleet-fingered, jazz-inflected ribbons of guitar enraptured band and audience alike. Owens’ trumpet solo during the drumming segment gave the old tune a fresh coat of paint.
Following the 20-minute psychedelic romp through “Liz Reed,” the band took a well-deserved breather before a two-song encore with Texas guitar-slinger Doyle Bramhall II (Arc Angels, Eric Clapton, Roger Waters), the first a poignant Tedeschi-Bramhall duet on the Bob Dylan “Going, Going, Gone.” Mattison stepped up for lead vocals on the rollicking “Get What You Deserve,” from the Derek Trucks Band’s catalog. Bramhall strummed and grinned between Trucks and Tedeschi, bringing the spellbinding and soulful first night of the annual TTB Beacon series to its conclusion.
Lead photo: Susan Tedeschi performs with Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Beacon Theatre on Friday, Oct. 5 (Credit: Ella Jewell)