Tedeschi Trucks Band, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, FL – 12/29
Tedeschi Trucks Band earlier in 2011 – photo by Suzy Perler
In all of jamband land, or the blues world for that matter, is there a band-fronting duo made for each other more than Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi? Leaving aside the obvious — they’ve been a couple for a dozen years, and have two kids together — the two are possessed of talents that make a seemingly perfect match. His keening, soaring slide-guitar playing and penchant for musical exploration meet her hard-edged belting and, not incidentally, scorching six-string work firmly in the blues tradition.
They handily displayed those gifts during another of their annual holiday week shows in the Tampa Bay area, just a few hours’ drive from their home in Trucks’ native Jacksonville. Playing Ruth Eckerd Hall exactly a year from the date of their 2010 concert at the acoustically pristine venue, the two led the other nine instrumentalists and singers of the Tedeschi Trucks Band through two hours of practically nonstop music, partly drawn from the Grammy-nominated “Revelator” album.
The group opened strong with a low-slung, easy grooving version of 1969 Harry Nilsson hit “Everybody’s Talking,” a nod to the musical era most influential on the band, clearly an inheritor of the Allman Brothers’ jammy blues-rock approach (naturally, given the presence of Trucks and ABB bassist Oteil Burbridge). Riding the double-drums propulsion of Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson, the tune wound down with a brief a cappella section, followed by Trucks’ atmospheric guitar work, a segue into “Midnight in Harlem.” The latter tune came off as a sonic calling card for this band, a combo of Tedeschi’s moody, powerhouse vocals and Trucks’ often eerie slide declarations, rising with ever greater intensity over the soft cushion of Kofi Burbridge’s organ and a three-piece horn section.
The show continued in a similar fashion, with peaks followed by more peaks, and a democratic sharing of the spotlight. The two Ts clearly were in charge, but they weren’t the whole show. Mike Mattison, lead singer in the old Derek Trucks Band, took center stage for gruff vocals on the ’70s funk of Dr. John’s “Qualified,” while Burbridge, appropriately enough, offered some Herbie Hancock-style jazz piano explorations on Hancock’s “Space Captain,” which he recorded with other TTB members for Hancock’s “The Imagine Project.” And on a tribute to late bluesman Hubert Sumlin, Tedeschi and Mattison shared lead vocals with backup singer Mark Rivers.
That was just the first half of a show, kick-started with a set by Miami sacred-steel steel champs The Lee Boys, that was long on satisfying moments and short on breaks. In addition to a mid-song deconstruction of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue,” highlights included a soulful stroll through Lovin’ Spoonful ballad “Darling Be Home Soon”; the old-school R&B of “Bound for Glory,” and a stomping takedown of Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” with open space for Maurice Brown’s brash trumpet solo, bolstered by a bit of circular breathing.
The acid-washed “Love Has Something Else to Say” was followed by Bill Withers’ “When I’m Kissing My Love,” sung by Brown. On the encore, enduring spiritual “Wade in the Water,” with its shared vocals, call-and-response passages, breakdowns, build-ups and a long fade-out, made for a musical and emotional climax to a show with ‘nary a dull moment.