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Tedeschi Trucks Band – Chicago Theatre, April 1, 2023

By Linda Cain

photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Tedeschi Trucks Band

Chicago Theater, Chicago

April 1, 2023

Derek Trucks (lead guitar) & Susan Tedeschi (lead vocals, guitar)

Tyler Greenwell (Drums) Isaac Eady (Drums) Mike Mattison (Vocals) Mark Rivers (Vocals) Alecia Chakour (vocals) Kebbi Williams (Saxophone) Ephraim Owens (Trumpet) Elizabeth Lea (Trombone) Brandon Boone (Bass) Gabe Dixon (keyboards)

By Linda Cain

photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Tedeschi Trucks Band, led by husband and wife team Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi and accompanied by a 10-piece ensemble of ace players and singers, is one of the most durable and popular touring and recording bands that exists today. This year marks the group’s 13th anniversary together. The years have been good to the powerhouse blues-rock-roots-jam band that famously won a Grammy for its debut release Revelator. TTB even survived the pandemic shutdown that saw the cancellation of nearly two years’ worth of tour dates both here in the states and all over the world; their livelihood, along with countless others, was taken away in an instant in Spring 2020.

So what happens when you employ a 12-piece touring band that can’t hit the road anytime in the foreseeable future? If you are Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, you and your bandmates hunker down in the recording studio and start creating beautiful new music. Pass around some joints, order pizza, enjoy some beer and wine and listen to albums by Jimi Hendrix, Derek & The Dominoes, The Beatles and Mahalia Jackson and let it roll! Two years later, the result was an unprecedented four album set titled I Am The Moon with a theme based on an ancient Persian poem about the legend of star-crossed lovers Layla and Majnun.

The new music ranges from dreamy, romantic and poetic ballads to mysterious, exotic and spacey instrumentals, along with some lively gospel, R&B and New Orleans trad jazz excursions for good measure.

photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Back on tour post pandemic in 2022, the bulletproof force of nature that is TTB didn’t even wait until all four CDs from the I Am The Moon dropped. They debuted never before heard songs live in concert, sometimes up to 10 new songs in a set; it was a risk that might not go over well with loyal fans who wanted to hear longtime favorites like “Bound For Glory” or “Midnight in Harlem.” The bold experiment was a success and the new original music was embraced by the audience hearing it for the first time. We caught the long-awaited The Wheels of Soul Tour in July 2022 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora with openers Gabe Dixon (the TTB’s multi-talented keyboard player) and the legendary Los Lobos. The riverfront setting and lovely warm summer night was the perfect pastoral vibe to accompany TTB’s splendid new lunar-themed music.

For many years, TTB have held down a winter residency at the Chicago Theater each frigid January, performing for three to four nights to packed shows. This year, however, saw the band switch to a Spring residency, performing for four nights -- March 17,18,31 and April 1.

The show we attended was the TTB’s final night, which gave the vibe in the Chicago Theater a special ambience. TTB concerts are always a communal affair with both devotees and newbies excitedly talking amongst themselves and sharing stories about past TTB shows they’ve attended. Of course, no two shows are ever exactly alike!

photo: Roman Sobus

As the lights went out and band took to the stage at 8:11 p.m. the audience collectively rose to its feet (and stayed standing the entire show) and cheered the first notes of the upbeat, funky tune “Standback/Mr. Clean,” which was performed very much in the ensemble style of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dog’s and Englishmen -- featuring punchy horns, soaring backup harmonies, syncopated rhythms, Derek and Gabe trading licks on guitar and keys, with Susan and Mike delivering soulful, gut-busting lead vocals.

The band slowed it down for the dreamy, floaty ballad “Here My Dear” from the I Am The Moon collection. Susan demonstrated the tender side of her singing style, as her vocals soothed over us. The band kicked it up a notch as Derek came in with a lively guitar solo to build up the song’s ending to an exciting finish.

Trucks is an expert at starting solos subtlety, ebbing and flowing, then building to a crescendo and leading the band along with the aural delights of his impeccable guitar tone and note bending, reminiscent of the late Jerry Garcia. But unlike the Grateful Dead experience, nobody nods out during a TTB concert.

photo: Roman Sobus

The next song, “I Want More,” startled us out of the dreamy mood with a stompin’ four- on-the floor beat and Susan’s wailing voice supported by the soaring back up trio of Mike, Mark and Alicia. The drummers furiously pounded, then suddenly quieted for Derek to come in and play soft and low, cleverly drawing us in; in a moment Susan joined in on guitar; the two guitarists and the drummers built up to a fast and furious big finish as the crowd shouted and cheered its approval.

Once again, the mood shifted to a sensuous, soulful number “Life Is Crazy”, sung by Mike Mattison, his octave-leaping voice spiraling away like Ray Charles, as the crowd cheered him on. Derek came in with some wild string bending and Gabe followed with an exciting organ solo. The crowd roared and clapped in response.

Then it was back to mellow melodies sung by Susan on “D’Gary” from the I Am the Moon albums. Susan sang wistfully of childhood memories and Derek offered us a fluttery solo to finish the lovely song.

Once again, the mood shifted to the joyful gospel number “The Feeling Music Brings” belted out by Susan. Talented, versatile vocalist that she is, Susan could likely sing every page in the phone book. But she especially shines on the blues, soul and gospel numbers, which have always been her passion. “I’m gonna sing Hallelujah!” she jubilantly proclaimed. Gabe knocked out some swirling organ riffs, as Susan responded with some bright and punchy guitar lines back atcha. Derek joined in with his incendiary licks, playing up and down the neck, as the rhythm section barreled along, and then switched to a big stomp-down gospel finish as Susan hollered out her love of music. After that exhilarating number, both the band and the audience needed to catch its collective breath.

photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

And so Mike Mattison played acoustic guitar and sang sweetly of “Emmaline” (from the Moon collection) to a quiet, hypnotic waltz beat. Backed by gentle four-part harmonies, (including Susan’s) Mattison expressed how the song’s protagonist wore his heart on his sleeve for this lady.

The 12-piece TTB is comprised of outstanding musicians and vocalists who each get a chance to strut their stuff on stage throughout the show. And now it was time for backup singer Alicia to shine in the spotlight for “Part of Me.” Derek kicked it off with a bouncy R&B rhythm while Susan and Alicia traded verses as their voices blended on the chorus. The band grooved along, adjusting the volume and intensity to Derek’s lead guitar excursions. They played softly for Alicia’s big solo; she started sweetly and then powered it home. Kebbi’s sax solo entered into the calmness for a brief respite and then Derek and the band drove it home with thundering power as Susan belted out the final verse.

“That Did It” featured Susan’s powerful pipes belting out the blues, backed by the syncopating horn section as the backup singers wailed away. Derek played some B.B. King-worthy notes for a quiet passage, that built in intensity as the band powered up behind him and he really got down, while the audience cheered them on. Susan got her chance to rip off a tough blues guitar solo in response. “Lord! So why was he getting drunk at Buddy Guy’s last night?!” Susan sang in her best low down dirty blues voice as the fans went crazy.

And then it was break time.

A half-hour later the band returned to the stage with Mike Mattison on vocals for a short, smooth, rhythmic version of the O.V. Wright classic “I’d Rather Be Blind, Crippled and Crazy.” The tasty song served as a little lagniappe to get us ready for the final feast to come.

Susan took over the mic for “Laugh About It” as she urged us to carry on in the face of adversity, to rise up and put our hands up in the air. And of course we obliged. Gabe joined in on keys for a jazzy jammin’ solo that perfectly complemented the song’s sentiment.

The crowd cheered as soon as they recognized the opening notes to the dreamy, soulful “Midnight in Harlem,” a fan favorite. Mike Mattison, the song’s author, joined with Alicia and Mark to provide lovely backup harmonies to Susan’s expressive lead vocals. Kebbi Williams contributed a captivating, moody sax solo that built to an exciting finish as the crowd cheered him on. Derek played a melodic, romantic guitar solo, no doubt inspired by his love for Susan. It’s a beautiful song that never fails to satisfy!

photo: Roman Sobus

“Yes We Will” kicked off with Derek’s stinging guitar, Brandon Boone’s thumping bass and Susan’s bluesy gospel singing. Derek’s guitar playing was reminiscent of Pops Staples’ style, while Susan testified like a young Mavis; the chorus echoed “Yes we will!” in response.

Gabe Dixon sang and played his keyboards in a bouncy Billy Preston style for “Ain’t That Something.” He and Susan traded verses and the backup trio joined in. Trumpet player Ephraim Owens added a taste of sassy brass and Susan worked the wah-wah on her guitar. The crowd loved the light-hearted upbeat number and roared its approval.

“Let Me Get By,” with its swaying beat and soaring voices, is another TTB favorite. It featured Gabe’s swirling B-3 organ solo that swung like Joey D. Francesco. Derek’s intriguing solo joined in the fun to lead the thundering rhythm section into a great big exciting finish as the singers gloriously harmonized.

photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Derek kicked off the funky blues classic “Leavin’ Trunk” with some nimble slide playing right out of his days with the Allman Brothers. Mike sang lead with his mighty pipes, while Gabe joined in on keys for a tasty solo and the drummers kept it going. Derek raised the excitement level and Mike belted the blues. The horns got to groove subtly as Derek slowed it down for a bit. Elizabeth Lea stepped out for her big moment to pump away on her grand gleaming trombone; she demonstrated some remarkable lung power and chops as the crowd cheered her on!

The bass drums led the band for a stompin’ intro to “You Get What You Deserve” with Derek getting nasty with his slide guitar and Mike and Susan belting out the blues together. Gabe attacked the 88s and the backup singers wailed “You get what you deserve!!” The rhythm section sped up, prompting Derek to work out on his slide, as they gave us a big stomp down finish.

And then most of the band left the stage, leaving only Susan, the bassist, one drummer and Gabe on keys and the backup singers on harmony vocals. They played the opening notes to a lovely, countryish cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” which quickly got the fans attention, especially since this is Prine’s hometown. Gabe tickled the keys for a tender, heartfelt solo. Susan’s wearied vocals perfectly conveyed the emotions of the song’s woeful protagonist. She transitioned into the first verse of Jerry Garcia’s beloved “Sugaree” and the crowd cheered in recognition. The singer moved back and forth between the two songs before ending with “to believe in this living is just a hard way to go.” The fans went wild.

photo: Roman Sobus

The band filed back onto the stage while the trumpeter vamped with the drummers and bassist for some lively music. Trucks chimed in on guitar with the melodic opening to Nina Simone’s civil rights spiritual “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.” Mike Mattison sang first and then Susan joined for the next verse, as the whole band jumped in for a joyful, going-to-church feel. Derek quieted the band for another amazing solo. Alicia and Mattison traded verses and then the pace quickened as the two built the drama, wailing to the heavens. Alicia hit the whistle tone notes and the drummers hammered away with Derek slidin’ in sacred steel fashion for the big finish as the entire Chicago Theater roared. Susan thanked the audience and exited while the fans kept hollering for more.

Of course, they returned for the encore. Mike Mattison kicked it off with the intro to James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” as the choir crooned along. The fans cheered in recognition and Susan joined in to make it a duet. Mark Rivers stepped out for a verse, and the singers’ voices soared and scatted as Gabe played some funky, jazzy lines on keys. Derek joined in for some contemplative guitar musings that gave rise to a triumphant finish.

The mood changed entirely for the final number -- a Joe Cocker style, full blown ensemble -- with horns and singers blasting out “Let’s Go Get Stoned!” The audience cheered giddily, with some taking the advice to heart and pulling on their pipes. Susan, Alicia and Mike traded verses about getting toasted and the fans sang along. Gabe played a Ray Charles worthy keyboard solo, the Ephraim Owens played his muted trumpet rhythmically, Elizabeth Lea proudly showed off her mighty trombone chops, and Derek joined in for some fun string bending! Mike and the singers joined in again and got us swaying in unison and singing along.

photo: Roman Sobus

“It’s alright to get a little drunk and high,” Susan wailed, a cappella, as the fans cheered their approval. And for the big finish, she got down and dirty to scream at the top of her lungs the final words of the night: LET’S GO GET STONED!!!

And thus ended TTB’s final night at the Chicago Theater with a 22-song set that satisfied! Susan, Derek and the band delivered music that captivated the crowd, touched hearts, got booties shakin’, hands clapping and minds blown. Which are just a few reasons why the fans keep coming back again and again. Here’s to next year!

photo: Roman Sobus

About the author: Linda Cain is the founder/managing editor of Chicago Blues Guide.

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