By Linda Cain
Derek Trucks (lead guitar) & Susan Tedeschi (lead vocals, guitar)
Tyler Greenwell (Drums) J.J. Johnson (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
Photos: Jennifer Noble (from Feb. 1, 2020 at Wembley Stadium, London)
January in Chicago is heralded by major events for blues & roots fans — Buddy Guy’s month-long residency at his club Legends, featuring very special guests as openers. There’s Too Hot To Handel, the jazz/gospel version of Handel’s Messiah, now in its 15th year at the Auditorium Theater that is a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (My husband sings in the 80-piece choir with a full orchestra, jazz big band and famous soloists).
And last but certainly not least, there’s Tedeschi Trucks Band’s four-show annual residency at the Chicago Theatre over two weekends.
All three of these productions attract die-hard fans who travel from all over to descend on Chicago to partake in these musical celebrations year after year. January in Chi-town can be brutal and great shows like these are the equivalent of musical comfort food.
Why do fans grab tickets to these sell-out shows and return like homing pigeons each winter? In the case of TTB’s four concerts, the answer is: No two shows are exactly the same. Will the band play your favorite song, perhaps “Midnight in Harlem,” this time? And if they do, you will feel like you hit the jackpot when you chose to attend on this night.
Led by the husband and wife team of guitarist Derek Trucks and singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi, backed by a 10-piece band, the TTB formed when the married couple decided they needed to spend more time together instead of touring separately with their own bands. The TTB has kept the tradition going of big, bluesy, funky, soulful revues like Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen, The Allman Brothers (Derek’s former band), Eric Clapton’s Derek & The Dominoes with Duane Allman and Delany & Bonnie along with the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band. Tedeschi & Trucks wear their influences on their sleeve, often covering songs by the above, plus B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ray Charles, Junior Wells, Al Green, Joe Tex, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin, Sly & The Family Stone, Elton John and more. But TTB is hardly a cover band; the 12-piece unit always delivers its own exciting, improvisational jam band style to the music.
Add to that the obvious reverence and reference that Derek and Susan show in their playing for guitarists Buddy Guy, Jerry Garcia, Warren Haynes, Tony Joe White, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Johnny Winter and other guitar heroes.
The band’s original songs are always a communal effort both in the studio and on stage; the players seem to have an almost telepathic ability to respond to each other, a skill no doubt honed after years of nonstop touring and recording and camaraderie.
So which songs from its vast repertoire would the band treat us to on their final night in Chicago? (Scroll down for set lists from both Friday and Saturday nights)
Chicago Blues Guide scored seats for Susan & Derek & Company’s farewell to Chicago, which kicked off at about 7:38 p.m. and ended about 10:50 p.m. There were two sets with a 35-minute intermission. Each set was about 65-70 minutes.
Throughout the night the 12-piece band played with such mesmerizing passion, intensity and virtuosity that it seemed like they performed sets that were twice as long. The sound was perfect and the lighting was subtle and beautiful. Thankfully there were no psychedelic strobe light effects, even when the band wandered into trippy musical territory ala Warren Haynes and Govt. Mule. And, of course, the gorgeous architecture of historic Chicago Theatre was the perfect backdrop.
Don’t Do It, Do I Look Worried, All That I Need, Until You Remember, Down in the Flood, Don’t Know What It Means, Have You Ever Loved A Woman, Bound For Glory
TTB opened with a rousing version of The Band’s “Don’t Do It (Don’t You Break My Heart)” as fans continued to file into the Chicago Theater. The audience on the main floor remained on its collective feet throughout the entire first set. Throughout the night each soaring guitar solo by Trucks elicited a roar from the crowd. Susan’s powerful, gutsy, gospel-influenced vocals – along with her bluesy, string-bending guitar notes – were met with similar adoration. Three TTB originals followed: “Do I Look Worried” (from Made Up Mind), “All That I Need” (Made Up Mind) and “Until You Remember” (from Revelator).
Susan defiantly sang the musical question: “Do I look worried to you?” on this soul burner, as the horns and Derek’s guitar built to a climax. “I ain’t gonna take it anymore!” she declared.
“All That I Need” featured Derek playing cascading Garcia-like notes on his Gibson (same model that Jerry played). Derek and sax man Kebbi Williams collaborated for a stellar duet. Susan poignantly expressed the longing in “Until You Remember” with her beautiful, emotion packed vocals.
For Bob Dylan’s “Down in the Flood,” Derek switched to rip roaring slide guitar that echoed the emotions of the lyrics that Mike Mattison belted out with authority; it was a gripping performance that would’ve made the song’s enigmatic author smile from cheek to cheek.
“Don’t Know What It Means” (a TTB original from Let Me Get By) concluded with a noisy, chaotic sax solo from Kebbi that went on too long. Thankfully the band switched gears and launched into the blues “Have You Ever Loved A Woman?”
Susan belted out the Clapton classic (originally by Freddie King), while Derek soulfully bent his guitar strings as the band played the lump-de-lump blues beat. This was not a carbon copy of the Derek & the Dominos hit; the band did its own interpretation and earned much applause.
Set One ended with a joyful, uplifting fan favorite, the full-on gospel blast of the TTB original “Bound For Glory” (from Revelator). Susan’s voice was glorious, inspiring the fans to clap, sway and sing along. Backup singer Alecia Chakour got a chance to shine in the spotlight as she riffed on the chorus “Can you feel it?” in an octave scaling performance that was reminiscent of a young Aretha Franklin. The final number took our collective breath away, and then the band convened for a 35-minute recess.
SET 2 Strengthen What Remains, Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning, 44 Blues, Women Be Wise, It Hurts Me Too, Walk on Guilded Splinters, Part of Me, Midnight in Harlem, The Storm, Whipping Post Encore: Space Captain
The second half of the show opened with a five-song acoustic front porch style set with the core of the band seated at the front of the stage. Thankfully, the audience stayed seated as well (perhaps they needed a rest due to the very long lines to the bars and washrooms).
Derek and Susan sat in chairs playing acoustic and electric guitars, with help from the trio of backup singers, for a couple of songs. They were then joined by drummers Johnson and Greenwell on stripped down kits, Boone on upright bass, and Dixon behind them on organ. Trombonist Elizabeth Lea joined in for a number, too.
Susan tenderly sang the first acoustic tune, the dreamy “Strengthen What Remains” (from Signs), with its bittersweet lyrics. Her lovely voice was accompanied by only Derek’s acoustic guitar and the backup singers, including Mike Mattison, who wrote the song.
They followed with the traditional gospel of “Keep Your Lamp (Trimmed and Burning) as more of the band came out to sing and clap hands while Derek played acoustic slide. Mike Mattison stepped out to sing the old-time standard “44 Blues” with the proper amount of swagger, as Derek responded in kind on electric slide.
Susan returned for a sassy version of Sippie Wallace’s 1920s classic blues (covered by Bonnie Raitt) “Women Be Wise.” The wise Ms. Tedeschi knows better (wink, wink) than to advertise her man! “It Hurts Me Too,” another blues standard, ended the acoustic set. Susan expressed the song’s heartbreak with both her whiskey flavored vocals and nimble single-note string picking, much to the delight of the fans who cheered her on.
The full band returned for a spooky tribute to Dr. John with “Walk on Guilded Splinters,” eerily accented by a fog machine and the haunting sounds of the horn section and trio of backup singers doing a call-and-response.
Then it was back into the light for the soulful, upbeat R&B of TTB’s “Part of Me” (from Made Up Mind). On this romantic number, Susan sang lead, declaring “you’ll always be a part of me.” She was answered by Derek’s funky guitar rhythms, along with the energetic backup singers and punchy horn section that helped make this song soar.
The next tune started as a bit of a mystery, with Derek moving to stage right to duet with Dixon on keys; the melody seemed familiar. Could it be…? No wait… Derek then moved back to center stage by Susan. He stopped playing to allow Kebbi to blow a few vampy bars on his sax. Are they teasing us? Finally the band played the familiar opening to “Midnight in Harlem” and the crowd cheered in response. Jackpot! Susan seduced us with her lovely voice as she sang the lyrical description of urban reality and loneliness, penned by bandmate Mike Mattison, who helped with backup vocals. A full moon appeared above the band on the stage’s backdrop. Beautiful!
Then it was a trip down to Memphis for a cover of Little Milton’s “More & More” featuring a duet between backup singers Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers, now at center stage. The horn trio blazed away and the rhythm section had us movin’ to the groove.
“The Storm” opened with Derek’s fuzz-toned guitar and Susan’s voice ominously warning of fires burning, flood waters rising and winds howling, thus forcing the song’s characters to flee this apocalypse. The song built to a climax, with the drums crashing like thunder, the bass hypnotically pulsing and Derek’s torrential guitar notes wailing.
TTB smoothly segued into the Allman’s classic “Whipping Post” that whipped the crowd into a frenzy of pumping fists and whooooos! Derek moved towards the horn section, beckoning trombone lady Liz Lea to a duel. She was up to the challenge and pumped her slide and blew her ‘bone with the same power and intensity that Derek displayed on his axe. Trombone Shorty better watch out! The drummers went wild as Derek wailed on guitar and Susan’s gutsy voice belted out the song’s ending: “SOMETIMES I FEEL!”
The audience cheered as the band departed the stage. But soon they returned for the grand finale of a four-night stand in Chicago. They couldn’t have chosen a better song: “Space Captain (Learning To Live Together)” by Joe Cocker & Mad Dogs and Englishmen. This was a show-stopping song they performed with Warren Haynes and Chris Stainton (who played with Joe Cocker) at Eric Clapton’s 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival in Bridgeview, IL. You can find this version on YouTube.
Yet, tonight’s version of this uplifting Cocker classic was even better than the rendition from 2010. The entire TTB 12-piece ensemble was on full-tilt! The harmonies from the backup singers, the horns, the keyboards, the rhythm section, Derek’s guitar, Susan’s lead vocals – it was glorious, soulful and transcendent. Susan came to the front of the stage to testify like Mavis Staples, pleading for people to come together in the name of Truth and Equality. The song ended and she thanked us for coming and promised to return.
As we headed into the night with a song in our hearts, it was easy to see why this band comes back to Chicago year after year and so do the fans.
Troopers that they are, Susan and Derek headed to Buddy Guy’s Legends to sit in with him for a very late Saturday night set, during the final leg of Buddy’s January residency. Buddy held Susan close as they sang John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain.” Derek joined in to play slide on his Gibson and Buddy responded on his Strat. Buddy and Susan improvised a song that started out as “Rock Me Baby” then into Junior Wells’ “Hoodoo Man Blues.” Buddy gave Susan the mic and she sang/spoke her mind about her love for Buddy and his band. Susan improvised, sang her heart and testified to the power of the blues! Derek answered with a rippin’ solo as Buddy played along and grinned from ear to ear. Buddy and Derek got into a furious jam; Buddy broke a string and had to swap guitars to finish up. Buddy’s love for Susan & Derek was on full display.
FYI, Buddy played at Clapton’s Crossroads Fest in Bridgeview in 2007 and 2010, as did Susan and Derek, who had yet to join forces to create the Tedeschi Trucks Band. No doubt the seeds for this idea were planted while they were here. From 2007 to 2020, Susan and Derek have come full circle, always with Chicago and the blues in mind.
Set list for Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Chicago Theater on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020
Set 1 Misunderstood, Bell Bottom Blues, Joyful Noise, Crying Over You, It’s So Heavy, Little By Little, Anyhow, Border Song, Show Me
Set 2 Statesboro Blues, Signs, High Times, Right on Time, They Don’t Shine, I’ve Got A Feeling, Let Me Get By, Angel From Montgomery/ Sugaree, I Pity The Fool, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed Encore: Made Up Mind
About the author: Linda Cain is the founder/managing editor of Chicago Blues Guide.