Tedeschi Trucks Band bring the fun (and skill)
Orpheum Theatre, Boston, December 1, 2016
Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
It didn't take too too long into the first of three nights in her return to her roots for Susan Tedeschi to exclaim that the night was fun.
Tedeschi was more about singing the blues and guitar playing than milking the crowd as she let her own skills, those of her namesake on the band (and husband) Derek Trucks and the rest of the dozen-piece Tedeschi Trucks Band supply a whole lot more than fun.
For starters there was Trucks, who set the table with the opening, elasticity of the very bluesy "Get What You Deserve," a song he helped write. The song was indicative of Trucks' evening. In concert after concert, he always has been a steady, sturdy player, high on skill, ultra low on ego and flash. Simply put, Trucks always provides great listening pleasure.
In fact, the pony-tailed guitarist pretty much eschewed the spotlight to others in the band, though no one attempted to steal the show during the 1 ¾-hour concert. Trucks rarely directly faced the crowd, often showing his side to the crowd and his back a bit. No matter because he was more than content to slide away on his guitar or other times lend support to Tedeschi, who took far less leads, but remains a strong player.
She also retained her vocal prowess on a variety of songs, ranging from the blues to a surprising bluesy take on David Bowie's "It Ain't Easy" to George Jones' "Color of the Blues," a country song she recorded for John Prine's recent release.
There was a reason that this is called the Tedeschi Trucks Band because the inclusion of the word "band" was obvious in concert. To say that the collective was dexterous would be an understatement with soulful, gospel sounds intertwined with an out there very long jazz segment. These guys can play and sing. Mike Mattison, one of three back-up vocalists, took lead on several songs and was a soulful power in his own right. The two-drum attack of J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell recalled the Allmans, of course (so did the overall sound of the band at times).
One of the biggest highlights also was most unusual - Trucks going back and forth with trombonist Elizabeth Lea for a stretch that was just plain fun.
There were lots of changes of tempo, emphasis on instrumentation and a variety of musicians on stage for any given song. That included opening act Jorma Kaukonen, who came out with his Thunderbird electric for an ultra muscular take on "Key to the Highway."
Tedeschi knew what she was talking about when she said this was a fun evening. Great music will have that affect.
Kaukonen enjoyed nearly an hour stage in his opening set where he sat playing acoustic guitar. In his 70s, the Hot Tuna member showed no signs of slowing down. His guitar playing was precise, but lyrical. His singing of a bunch of blues songs (not the only genre he is accomplished at as he has gone rootsy and country in recent years) was on the mark.
Kaukonen turned in a well-done "Good Shepherd" while also playing three songs from the Rev. Gary Davis.
In contrast to the headliners, Kaukonen did his own version of the blues, softer and quieter, but meaningful in its own way.