Tedeschi Trucks Band closed their sold-out three night run at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, December 3rd with two sets of tried and true American Rock ‘n’ Roll that established them as the official torchbearer of the genre.
While plenty of acts ranging from Arcade Fire and Wilco to The Black Keys and My Morning Jacket have made the 21st century an exciting time to be a fan of guitar-based rock, Tedeschi Trucks Band’s year-ending run in Boston demonstrated that they’re more than a guitar heavy rock act: they’re a living history lesson and tribute to the genre itself.
Over the span of three hours, Tedeschi Trucks Band performed an array of material from their three studio albums, in addition to songs written by The Four Tops, Leon Russell, Delaney & Bonnie, The Coasters, Santana and Titus Turner. Susan Tedeschi (vocals/guitar) and Derek Trucks (slide guitar) are both incredible musicians in their own right, but the job they do as bandleaders is exceptional. In addition to the husband/wife guitar duo, Tedeschi Trucks Band is rounded out by a male and female backup vocalists, a three-person horn section, two drummers, a bassist and a keyboard/organ player in Kofi Burbridge who also plays a mean flute. With a fully fleshed out ensemble a dozen players strong, Tedeschi Trucks Band has the kind of roster depth that allows them to masterfully execute compositions of every kind. Rock, funk, blues, soul, folk and jazz were all honored during their performance at the Orpheum. In fact, the only uniquely American musical genre they didn’t cover was hip-hop.
For all that can be said about the collective power of Tedeschi Trucks Band as a group, it is without doubt that Derek Trucks is singularly the most otherworldly talent in the act. The vocals of Tedeschi and backup singer Alicia Shakur can break glass and weaken knees, but Trucks is the uniquely gifted musician whose work can be recognized within a note of being played. The key to Trucks sound is in his finger picking, slide playing, Open E tuning, but even with that knowledge, the secret behind his tonal wizardry leaves twenty-year vets of the instrument dumbfounded. Trucks is first and foremost a blue guitarist but where he stands out from his contemporaries is the influence that Classical Indian music has had on his tone and technique. In addition to a sweeping implementation of vibrato, Trucks has a habit of sliding in and out of a singular note in a way that creates a jangly sustain resembling the drone of the sympathetic strings on a sitar.
Following a vamped-up “Soul Sacrifice” by Santana, Tedeschi Trucks Band left the stage, returning for an encore of Joe Cocker’s rendition of “With A Little Help From My Friends.” Burbridge eased into things with a calm, tastefully spaced solo that led into the familiar organ intro that queues up one of the most piercing, note-bending riffs of all time. This was the final show of 2016 for Tedeschi Trucks Band, a year of great loss for the musical community. Both Leon Russell and Sharon Jones were close collaborators of the group and they passed less than a month ago and within a week of each other. During a lull in the instrumental intensity, Tedeschi took a few moments to sing out acknowledgements to their fallen friends, in addition to the losses of Prince, David Bowie and others. As things went back into high gear, Tedeschi belted out the closing chorus with a ferocious intensity that left nothing in the tank. Her voice is a power to reckon with on any given night, but for the last show of the year, she was going all out in a way no singer can on a nightly basis.
When the lights came on, Tedeschi Trucks Band successfully capped a three-night run that included four sets of music, various guests, a plethora of covers and 8,100 satisfied music lovers. What’s more impressive is how their genre-blending sound manages to cover a ton of ground while keeping a solid hold on their own musical identity: No matter what they’re playing or who they’re playing with, they always sound like Tedeschi Trucks Band. It cannot be understated how defining this run was for them. As they brought their 2016 to a close, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and their consummately professional backup band proved themselves to be a living, breathing tribute to American music while simultaneously adding their own chapter to the book.