We caught up with the Tedeschi Trucks Band tour as it rolled into F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, PA on Sunday February 15, 2015. The band is touring behind their second studio album, Made Up Mind. This eleven piece ensemble includes Derek Trucks on guitar, Susan Tedeschi on guitar and lead vocals, Kofi Burbridge on keyboards and flute, Tim Lefebvre on bass, Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson, both on drums and percussion, with former Derek Trucks Band vocalist Mike Mattison on harmony and lead vocals and acoustic guitar, plus Mark Rivers on harmony vocals and the horn section which includes Kebbi Williams on saxophone, Maurice Brown on trumpet, and Saunders Sermons on trombone. Together they make a joyful noise and it surely warmed up the bitter cold winter night.
For those unfamiliar with the band, Derek Trucks was an integral member of the Allman Brothers Band since 1999, as well as leader of the Derek Trucks Band which dissolved as TTB was being created. Susan Tedeschi was an award winning blues and roots singer and guitarist. The pair met when Susan toured as an opener for the Allman Brothers Band way back in 1999 or so. The two were later married and attempted to raise a family while being on the road in three different bands. Eventually they decided pool their talents and the Tedeschi Trucks Band was born. Their first album, Revelator, garnered TTB a Best Blues Album Grammy and a Blues Music Award for Album of the Year. Their follow-up live album, Everybody’s Talkin’ won the band a Blues Music Award for Best Rock Blues Album plus Susan, Derek and TTB itself won separate Blues Music Awards in 2012.
I have seen Tedeschi Trucks Band only once before this show and I was not impressed. I thought their debut album was lackluster, melancholy, and 180 degrees away from the triumph that was the final Derek Trucks Band record, Already Free. I felt let down by what I thought would be a powerful and dynamic band and record. The live set I saw previously found the band stumbling to find a pace for their shows and had too many mellow tunes grouped together. They lost me about half way through. Still, I respect these fine musicians and now, four years later, I was ready to give them another try, especially because I love the Made Up Mind album. I never expected the dynamic, expressive, full-bore Blues, Rock, and R&B juggernaut revue that trampled all my reservations and skepticism.
Without fanfare, the lights went down and one by one the band members came on stage, took their places, and started into the opening number. By the time they launched into “Made Up Mind” ten minutes later they were firing on all cylinders and ramping it up into overdrive. “Made Up Mind” is a raspy, chugging tune and drew cheers from the crowd seconds after Derek Trucks started scratching out the opening riffs. Susan Tedeschi belted out the chorus defiantly as the crowd sang along and boogied with the strutting rhythm. In the back of the hall, folks gathered to dance as Derek Trucks took everyone on slide guitar excursions into the heavens.
While Susan Tedeschi’s guitar playing has developed significantly since joining forces with her husband on stage, Kofi Burbridge serves as Derek’s main foil for soloing. Kofi is a maestro on keyboards and flute. He treated the crowd to many fantastic moments on both instruments. When Kofi takes a turn, Derek moves to Kofi’s corner on stage, listens intently, and with barely perceptible head movements spurs his musical partner higher. As for Susan, she played some excellent solos during Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “I Pity The Fool” which she also sang with fervor and authority.
The chemistry of the whole ensemble is undeniable. The horn section adds significantly to the overall sound, the two drummers are in lock step like a drum corps in a marching band, and vocalists Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers add layers of harmony that make the songs soar. Both Mike and Mark took turns on lead vocals. Susan Tedeschi is a formidable singer, but having two additional voices for lead vocals expands the band’s range exponentially. I realized about halfway through the set that this eleven piece band is a Rhythm & Blues orchestra. Each element of the band fills a specific purpose, creating layers of sound, and increasing the overall potency of the music. In a word, it was incredible.
Among the highlights were back to back acoustic tunes including Elmore James’ “Done Somebody Wrong” which was an electrified favorite of the Allman Brothers Band. Here, Derek and Susan took the song beyond its roots with a sparse arrangement that somehow kept all the intensity intact. “Bound For Glory” and “Midnight In Harlem” are standout tunes from the first album and they have developed into tour de force performance pieces. “Midnight In Harlem” showcases Susan Tedeschi’s command of her voice and the band’s ability to create tension and release. “Bound For Glory” has become an extended instrumental workout and gave me several breaks from reality as I found myself thinking I was in the middle of a full blown Allman Brothers jam. These moments gave me great hope for this extraordinary band, and my listening habits of the future.
I really can’t say enough about the complete reversal of opinion I experienced during the show. I am pleased to know this band has hit its stride and will hopefully continue to improve. Unfortunately it happens less and less, but it’s a good feeling to sit in a concert hall and be utterly impressed. Over the course of two hours, this well-oiled machine called Tedeschi Trucks Band raised the bar for every working band out there.