Tedeschi Trucks Band
Fox Theater, Oakland
Sept 8, 2016
All photos by Jeff Spirer
The immensely talented Tedeschi Trucks Band (TTB) set up camp in Oakland on a Thursday night for the first of two nights of revelry that transformed the vibe of the Fox Theater from a mid-sized concert venue to a more intimate blues bar.
The formation of Tedeschi Trucks Band came about in 2010 when founders Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks decided to extend their personal partnership (they married in 2001) into an official musical venture. The pair had crossed paths frequently since meeting in 1999 when Tedeschi and her band opened for the Allman Brothers Band (which featured Trucks on slide), but the when they joined forces on stage performing under the name Soul Stew Revival, it became clear that their musical powers were heightened as a ‘family band.’
At the Thursday night show, Tedeschi (whose booming voice belies her slight physical stature) and Trucks (the slide guitar guru whose talents have been lauded since he was a teen) along with TTB served up their elixir of musical goodness for nearly two hours. Perfecting a mix of blues, swing, soul, gospel, and rock, they served up their set as if blending a signature cocktail.
Opening with the ultra-funky ‘Don’t Know What It Means’ from the 2016 offering Let Me Get By, TTB showcased the talents of their twelve-piece band in the first ten minutes of the set. All of the elements were on display. Tedeschi’s uniquely powerful voice, Trucks’ sublime guitar work, the rock solid rhythm section, the bright splashes of the stellar brass section, and the very talented choir all locked together to form a musical Transformer that is greater than the sum of its parts. From the opening notes, everyone in the audience knew that this was going to be a grand evening of musical enjoyment.
One of the things about TTB that fans love most is the fact that their sets are diverse and varied from show to show. The performances at the Fox were no exception. Though they have a recording released this year, TTB did not dominate their set with new tunes trying to sell a few more CDs at the merch booth. There were plenty of older standards and cover tunes sprinkled throughout the set to keep the crowd and the players on their toes.
‘The Letter’ (originally by the Box Tops) was a sheer delight. Highlighting the strength of TTB vocals, the tradeoffs between Tedeschi’s power lead vocals and the multi-textured choir were a taste of the choral synchronicity that was to be demonstrated throughout the set.
Tedeschi can just flat out blow. With a voice that combines the feel of Bonnie Raitt and the force of Janis Joplin her singing easily filled the room, but she still had the control not to overpower the choir. Watching the interactivity of the vocal team of TTB is like watching a band within a band. Each of the choir vocalists took turns with leads, and each had distinctly different voices.
Mike Mattison took center stage on ‘Right on Time’ (Let Me Get By) adding a gruff Tom Waits styled vocal to the ragtime jazz tune. Harmonizing with Tedeschi and propped up by Trucks’ masterful use of the slide and the drunken feel of Elizabeth Lea on trombone, Mattison took this song and made it sound like it was his own.
On George Jones’ ‘Color of the Blues,’ the trio of Tedeschi, Mattison and Alicia Chakour breathed some air into the set with only Tedeschi’s guitar present to support their vocals. The melodies that were layered over her strumming were stripped down to the core but displayed a refreshing honesty as the three voices harmonized into one. It really made it evident that any of the elements of TTB taken alone can hold up to the quality that the band puts out as a whole.
And then there is the band. Though the band is led by Derek Trucks, and his name one of those on the marquee, he is quite deferential to his fellow players. Trucks took his fantastic leads, but one could argue that he should take more. The thing is that this is a true band, and it is not all about him.
Just like Tedeschi, who stepped back to the choir line when she was not singing lead, Trucks and the rest of this band have no ego with regards to being the focus. Despite being one of the best guitarists in the world, he was happy to support leads by Kofi Burbridge (on keys and flute), or Alam Khan (son of Ali Akbar Khan who guested on ‘These Walls’ playing the sarod). He looked perfectly content to hold things down as the rhythm and horn sections took the spotlight covering Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’. He even shared the lead guitar spotlight with his wife Susan who is a mighty fine guitarist in her own right.
TTB presses the right buttons in so many diverse musical realms that it is easy to see why they appeal to fans of jam bands, jazz, R&B, soul, blues…you get the idea. Tedeschi Trucks Band is like a musical fluid that can perfectly fit into any shape. From the reports of the Friday night show, the set list was even deeper and wider, stretching into two sets. With this band and their extensive talent, they could play two sets a night for a week and not really repeat much…a veritable embarrassment of riches not to be missed.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, opened the night with Bluhm’s crystal clear voice sparkling over a number of country rock tunes. Bluhm is tall and willowy, presenting a dominating figure in front of the three Gramblers. After about a half dozen tunes, Blum and her band took a left turn, performing the Jefferson Airplanes’ “Somebody to Love,” signaling a switch to a harder, more rock couple of songs. Given enough time, the band might have traveled as many roads as TTB. Bluhm, a Bay Area native, is on a roll, with a tour in Europe and an appearance on “Late Night with Stephen Colbert.”
Tedeschi Trucks band:
Setlist: Don’t Know What It Means | The Letter (The Box Tops cover) | Laugh About It | Isn’t It a Pity (George Harrison cover) | Right on Time | Get Out of My Life, Woman (Allen Toussaint cover) | Bitches Brew (Miles Davis cover) | Let Me Get By | Color of the Blues (George Jones cover) | These Walls (w/ Alam Khan – sarod) | Bound for Glory | How Blue Can You Get? (Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers cover) | Sticks and Stones(Titus Turner cover) | I Want More | Soul Sacrifice (Santana cover) | Let’s Go Get Stoned (Ray Charles cover)
For more information on the Tedeschi Trucks Band, check out their website.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers:
Find out more about Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers here.