A thunderstorm may have forced a delay in the 12-hour musical event known as the Greenwich Town Party – held at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park on May 26 – but when the Tedeschi Trucks Band finally hit the stage just after 7 p.m., it seemed things had gotten a little brighter – despite the fact the sun was setting.
Husband and wife Derek Trucks and singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi lead the 11-piece ensemble. Deeply rooted in the blues, the Tedeschi Trucks Band is equally adept at rock, funk, jazz and soul. Latin sounds and even Indian classical also factor into a show. No one can say they didn’t get their money’s worth at a Tedeschi Trucks Band concert. Tedeschi can play blues riffs like Muddy Waters while shining with a voice somewhere between Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin. Trucks, a slide guitar master who elects not to try his hand at singing, is so dedicated to his craft he was recently rated 16th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. He’s the youngest person on the list (32 years old) and if you do the math and realize six guys rated ahead of him are six feet under, that means Trucks is among the top ten guitarists walking this Earth.
As great as Trucks and Tedeschi are – they performed at the White House earlier this year, alongside B.B. King, Buddy Guy and others on a night that paid tribute to the blues – the entire band is top notch, from the keys player (Kofi Burbridge) who is also adept at flute, to dual drummers (an artful nod to the Allman Brother roots,) Tyler Greenwell and JJ Johnson – one black, one white – who wore matching shades in Greenwich on Memorial Day weekend.
The band also includes two backing vocalists, a three-piece horn section (trumpet, saxophone and trombone), and a bassist who got funky with a banjo bass on the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s cover of Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darling Be Home Soon.” Trucks and Tedeschi, once in separate bands, joined forces in late 2010 in order to spend more time on the road together.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band wound up playing the Greenwich Town Party sandwiched between a surprise appearance from Dave Matthews and the event’s final act, Paul Simon. The group kicked things off with Tedeschi singing “Don’t Let Me Slide,” a slow blues off of Revelator, the band’s 2011 debut album. Three minutes passed before Trucks treated the crowd to a blistering solo.
While the band would do a total of five songs from Revelator, including “Midnight in Harlem,” “Ball and Chain,” “Bound for Glory,” and “Love Has Something Else to Say,” they broke up their original material with a few covers. The second song of the night was Elmore James’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin,’” which featured constant interplay between Trucks’ slide work and Tedeschi’s no-nonsense playing and impassioned vocals. Trucks may not belt out a tune with the help of his diaphragm, but his guitar is definitely his voice. His expert use of glass against steel, and decision to pluck notes with fingers rather than a pick, results in a guitar that seems to sing, similar to what B.B. King can do with “Lucille,” his treasured Gibson guitar.
Other covers included Bobby Blue Bland’s “That Did It,” a story of betrayal, and the aforementioned “Darlin’ Be Home Soon,” by the Lovin’ Spoonful.
Throughout the night, Trucks and Tedeschi were more than generous in giving everyone a chance to shine. The members of this musical mob seem to get more time to do their thing than do those in other groups, where band member solos sometimes seem a mere formality. However, with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, creative expression truly seems encouraged. In fact, sax player Kebbi Williams, a young man who put every fiber of his being into his turn in the spotlight, nearly stole the show. For three-plus minutes, he added his brand of free-form jazz to the musical gumbo that is the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Trucks and Tedeschi never seemed impatient. In fact, they seemed as excited as the crowd, wondering what riff Williams would reach for next. Everyone one in the band got their moment in the sun, including background vocalist Mike Mattison, who made his way to center stage for the soul-tinged “I Know,” a song from The Derek Trucks Band’s 2009 CD Already Free.
“Bound For Glory,” the final song of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s set list, featured an extended organ solo by Burbridge. Soon after, it was Trucks taking a long trip on his fretboard. Before you knew it, it turned into one big jam. All in all, the band performed nine songs in an hour and five minutes. The Tedeschi Trucks Band has at times been described as a jam band. However, if that is so, they are a jam band of the highest order. Simple descriptions for this 11-person collective do not apply. Though the group could easily be classified as blues, or blues-rock, it is so much more than that. And that’s what makes the band so entertaining.
Trucks and Tedeschi clearly love what they do. They’re not in it for the money – otherwise they wouldn’t be splitting what they make for each gig 11 ways.