TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND - ORPHEUM THEATRE - THURSDAY, MAY 16TH, 2019
Last Thursday, May 16th, I continued my year of living musically when I ventured to downtown Los Angeles to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band play at the Orpheum Theatre. I was intrigued by the possibilities of this show as I had never seen Tedeschi Trucks play live before, nor had I ever been to the Orpheum.
The Grammy Award-winning Tedeschi Trucks Band are a blues jam band currently on tour in support of their fourth studio album, Signs, which was released on February 15 of this year. I discovered the band a few years ago through a client, who is a notable professional musician, and have been a fan ever since I explored their first album, Revelator(2011), and its scintillating follow up Made Up Mind(2013).
The band formed in 2010 when singer and guitarist Susan Tedeschi, a blues superstar in her own right, merged her band with her blues royalty/guitar prodigy husband Derek Trucks’ band, to form a sort of blues super group. Derek is the nephew of Butch Trucks, drummer for The Allman Brothers, and grew up playing with the band. By the time Derek was 13 he was already a professional touring musician who had played with such notables as the legendary Buddy Guy. Trucks became an official member of The Allman Brothers at the age of 20 and has recorded and toured with Eric Clapton as well and is widely considered one of the very best players of his generation.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band is enormous, like a traveling circus, boasting 12 members, who are…Susan Tedeschi (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Derek Trucks (lead guitar), JJ Johnson and Tyler Greenwell (drums/percussion), Brandon Boone (bass), Gabe Dixon (keyboards), Kebbi Williams (sax), Ephraim Owens (trumpet), Elizabeth Lea (trombone), Mike Mattison/Mark Rivers/Alecia Chakour (harmony vocals).
I was flying solo on concert night so I did not have my usual pre-show dinner at Shake Shack even though there was one right next to The Orpheum. Instead I Ubered a little later than usual to the show in order to avoid L.A. traffic and got to the venue about 20 minutes before show time.
As I waded through the crowd on the sidewalk and just inside the theatre, I noticed that the average age of the audience was middle-aged or slightly above. Unless some of these people are going to live to be 130 years old, I don’t think it is accurate to describe them as “middle-aged”. The crowd was decidedly friendly and welcoming, no bad apples or attitudes among the multitudes.
I made my way to my seat, which was very good as it was located on the second row center of the mezzanine, and sat myself down to get a good look at my surroundings. The Orpheum is a truly gorgeous venue, at once opulent and luxurious but also lived in. The seats were very comfortable and there was plenty of leg room between rows and arms space between seats.
Sitting behind me were an older couple, probably in their 60’s, who started chatting me up. They told me they had seen Tedeschi Trucks numerous times before and never saw the same show twice. Another guy, a retiree from Minnesota, overheard the conversation and chimed in. He told me he follows the band around, going to all of their shows not just in Minnesota but in Iowa and to all of their shows in Chicago and at the Beacon Theatre in New York. He flew out to Los Angeles to stay with his nephew and attend both shows that the band were playing on back to back nights at the Orpheum. All of these people assured me that, as a Tedeschi Trucks virgin, I would be blown away by the band. These folks were very down to earth and I never would have pegged them as essentially the equivalent of Tedeschi Trucks Dead Heads.
The show was scheduled to start at 8 with no opening act. At about 8:15 the band haphazardly strolled onto the stage and after some brief discussion amongst themselves, began playing. The band opened with the rollicking Do I Look Worried off of Made Up Mind and in no time at all I understood why Tedeschi Trucks has such a loyal following.
Susan Tedeschi has a wondrous, bluesy voice that both soars but is grounded. She powers through her vocals with a steady aplomb that gives the music a rich and complex humanity. The rest of the band are exceedingly tight, highlighted by the double drum section of Johnson and Greenwell, who at times lead the band with drum duets and/or duels. The horn section and the backing vocals are terrific as well and always made the most of their opportunities to shine.
But with all that said, there is simply no doubt that Derek Trucks is the sun around which the other planets in the band orbit. Trucks is obviously the band leader and weaves the talents of his formidable band into a cohesive and magnificent whole.
Trucks’ guitar playing is beyond sublime, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do anything as well as Derek Trucks played guitar the other night. Trucks’ guitar is like a long bow, and his notes arrows launched deep into the night sky. These arrows float elegantly through the air and then, concisely and precisely, strike the bullseye some miles away in the darkness with a resonant boom. Other arrows float through the night sky and then, once they reach their seeming apex, cluster together to form a rocket, then ignite, and blast off beyond the bounds of earth, scorching out of the Milky Way, exploring the deepest reaches of the universe, sometimes slowing, sometimes speeding up, but never losing their vibrancy, vitality and originality. These rockets then come full circle, turning into a ball of flames as they reenter the atmosphere, and morph once again into pristine arrows as they, with cunning exactness, come to land ever so gently back from the place they originated, in Derek Trucks’ quiver, just as he intended, entirely in tact and none the worse for wear, only wiser.
Trucks’ playing is spell-binding, so mesmerizing as to be hypnotic. He is so good he isn’t just the center of the band, but for two hours every night, the universe tilts on its axis because Derek Trucks’ and his guitar become the undeniable center of it.
Guitarists often describe their instrument as an axe, and it would be easy to think of Derek Trucks as some axe wielding dragon slayer. But as I watched Derek Trucks annihilate the Orpheum on Thursday night, I couldn’t help but think of Game of Thrones and the dragon Drogon obliterating Kings Landing. Derek Trucks is not the dragon slayer…Derek Trucks is the indestructible dragon..and his guitar wreaks a beautiful havoc and leaves those fortunate enough to witness its mastery and power, with mouths agape and minds blown.
The band played for a solid hour and then took a half hour intermission. My new friends, the older couple and the Minnesota man, quickly checked in on me to see what I thought, I was nearly speechless, and could only muster a “holy shit” in reply to their queries. They gave a knowing laugh, they too were once Tedeschi Trucks virgins.
After the intermission the band came out and picked up right where they left off with I’m Gonna Be There off of the new album Signs. Throughout the show various member of the band would took the spotlight, with back up singer Mike Mattison doing lead vocals on a few songs, as did Mark Rivers, both of them acquitting themselves extremely well. The horn section each got their solos, as did Brandon Boone on bass and Gabe Dixon on keyboards. The highlight feature though may have been JJ Johnson and Tyler Greenwell’s combined drum solo/duet/duel. These percussionists were masterful in playing off of and with each other and their skill is a driving force that keeps the band so tight.
After playing for another glorious hour and change, the band walked off to a raucous ovation, only to return for the requisite encore. Trucks’ then decisively tore into the distinct riff of Made Up Mind and the crowd erupted as the band tore through what may be their most signature song. Trucks and the horn section went back and forth with a volley of blues in a remarkable jam for a few delirious moments and then, with the audience spent, Tedeschi Trucks exited as they entered, with a slow saunter and an understated confidence.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band don’t put on a show, there is no posing and preening, no bells and whistles, instead the put on a master class in the blues. The musicianship on display at a Tedeschi Trucks show is the absolute height of artistry and craftsmanship. Even if you are not very familiar with the band, if you love music, go see Tedeschi Trucks…you will not be disappointed (you should also check out their albums, particularly Revelator and Made Up Mind). My ticket cost $105 (and came with a copy of their new album Signs) and my seats were very good and worth every penny and then some. I can tell you this, I now totally understand how middle-aged normies get sucked in by the band’s live music and end up following them around from city to city…as seeing Tedeschi Trucks is a truly transcendent experience. If you only see one concert a year, or every couple of years, do yourself a favor and make that concert Tedeschi Trucks.
Do I Look Worried
Part of Me
Don’t Drift Away
Somebody Pick Up My Pieces
High and Mighty
Down in the Flood
Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever
The Sky is Crying
I’m Gonna Be There
Signs, High Times
Lord Protect My Child
Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’
Midnight in Harlem
Get Out of My Life, Woman
Made Up Mind