Intentionally or not, the audio/video packages of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Live From The Fox Oakland highlight the group’s relative strengths on stage and in the studio. 2016’s Let Me Get By revealed a collective weakness in the group’s composition of its own material, but as producer of these sets, co-founder and producer of this concert recording Derek Trucks camouflages that slowly emerging shortfall through the selective use of originals juxtaposed with impressive choices of cover songs.
Even a mere snippet of the video recorded at the intimate California venue last fall demonstrates the natural theater of the ensemble in performance. The drama is palpable in observing a twelve-piece ensemble in action, even without extravagant stage production, but “Don’t Know What It Means” is striking as a naturally theatrical opening and an unmistakable exposition of the instrumental arsenal at the band’s command.
Still, its changes strain for funk rather than conjure it up and the lyrics, while upbeat and inclusive, are trite. “I Pity the Fool” suffers for its overwrought presentation: Susan Tedeschi usually sounds much more convincing on this kind of soulful balladry. The background singers from which Mike Mattison emerges to excel on a holdover from the Derek Trucks Band repertoire, Taj Mahal’s “Leavin’ Trunk.” are sometimes superfluous, even when featured as on “Don’t Drift Away” and “Let Me Get By,” where they otherwise complement the front-woman.
Carrying resounding impact because the tension and release principle inherent in the tune also permeates its arrangement, the performance of Derek and The Dominos’ “Keep On Growing” is one of the highlights here. This cull from Layla is the first of three covers in a row within the (overly?) carefully designed setlist and, in the course of its near eleven minutes, the performance goes from a whisper to a scream and back again. A deft display of dynamics, it’s effect isn’t all that dissimilar from the muted rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire” that immediately follows, where Tedeschi absolutely shines as a singer.
And as ambitious is the inclusion of s George Harrison’s “Within You Without You,” it’s a savvy piece of execution as well, even if it is just over two minutes in length: functioning equally well as a brief interlude and as direct inspiration to “These Walls” with its acoustic intro (supplemented by Sarod master Alam Khan), the late Beatle’s tune serves to remind Trucks is TTB’s greatest instrumental asset: the power of his guitar playing lies in its intricacy as on display here .
Monster bassist Tim Lefebvre (successor to original group member Oteil Burbridge) might also deserve a spotlight like that afforded double drummers Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson on “Ali” because the rhythm section adds such muscle to the motion of this band. Subtlety arising from the horn corps (saxophonist Kebbi Williams, trombonist Elizabeth Lea and trumpeter Ephraim Owen) equals the nuance(s) keyboardist/flautist Kofi Burbridge continuously inserts into the the sound and, as a result, when in the Tedeschi Trucks Band is in full flight, as on “I Want More” (with an outro taken from Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice”), the ensemble radiates a remarkable intensity.
In contrast to the overly-crowd-pleasing factor of the group’s prior concert release. Everybody’s Talkin’, the fundamental beauty of Live from The Fox Oakland lies in the video transitions on par with the excellence of the audio recording, courtesy of engineers Bobby Tis and Brian Speiser, that make its listening a generally satisfying experience on its own terms. More notable even than technical expertise, however, is the obvious sense of shared, joyful engagement on the part of everyone playing at any given moment.
As a result, when shifting camera angles across and around the stage are interspersed with panoramic views of the audience deep in its own rapture (kudos here to film directors Jesse Lauter and Grant James), the communal sense of pleasure, even with the relatively minor blemishes, becomes a peak concert experience.