Tedeschi Trucks Band | February 24, 2023 | Ryman Auditorium | Nashville, TN – Concert Review

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Review by Shawn Perry
Live photos by Erin Perry

Tedeschi Trucks Band might be the best example of real, authentic ‘Americana’ music on the circuit today. They’re also the most democratic. There’s Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks out front, but the other 10 musicians and singers are all very much part of a fully functional, working band. The fact that each member of the ensemble is a unique talent unto themselves just adds to the allure.

In Nashville for what’s become an annual muti-night residency at the Ryman Auditorium (they’ve played the landmark venue every year since 2015 [except 2021]), each night offered a different setlist — a typical practice of jam bands like TTB and most famously, the Grateful Dead. Thursday night featured Amy Lee as the opener and a one-set show from the headliners of mostly covers and a few new ones from the group’s ambitious 2022 four-part opus, I Am The Moon. On Saturday night, they took a similar approach over two sets without an opener. Which left Friday night — the show this reviewer attended.

Let’s be clear: You don’t go to see Tedeschi Trucks Band expecting to hear hits because they don’t have any. They have particular songs that are popular with their audience, but they don’t make the charts (at least not the Hot 100). If you watch television with any regularity, you’ve likely heard their song “Anyhow” (from 2016’s Let Me Get By) in a commercial for the Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck (they opened Saturday night’s show with it, and cleverly followed with Lonnie and Ed Young’s “Chevrolet”). The Friday night show was really more about putting I Am The Moon in context. That’s important because it’s a remarkably diverse album; a melting pot of rock, blues, gospel, country, R&B, jazz and whatever else the participants could throw in to push it beyond the limits.

Friday’s first set comprised the entirety of I Am The Moon: Crescent, the first part of the series. Not only did it adequately represent the breadth of the work’s reach and its melodic sensibility with bits and pieces of avant-garde eccentricity — it also highlighted the group’s unique chemistry that underscores the teamwork put into the piece. That and an anything-goes policy was put on full display. Tedeschi took everyone by the hand and lead them through a beatific “Hear My Dear” before Mike Mattison was handed the baton for a jaunty stroll through “Fall In.”

Mattison’s role as primary vocalist, when he’s not backing Tedeschi, as well as songwriter (he co-wrote one of the group’s more popular numbers, “Midnight In Harlem,” which was part of Saturday’s two-song encore), cannot be underestimated as a yet another special ingredient in TTB’s magic potion. The singer’s surely, gravelly vocal invites you to sit down and smile with every verse he croons.

Next, keyboardist Gabe Dixon sang alongside Tedeschi on “I Am The Moon,” and a collective spell of goose bumps swept over the room, stirring every living being with a heartbeat. At each turn, the music intensified, opening up the floodgates for Trucks to unleash a flurry of staccato squeals on his Gibson SG just to make sure everyone was paying attention. Since his days with the Allman Brothers Band and Eric Clapton, Trucks’ rise as a full-fledge musician and band leader remains unrivaled. When he isn’t channeling John Coltrane during extended jazz-flavored vamps, he’s cueing the players in his band to take a solo or change course entirely. Everyone is watching him — the musicians for direction, the audience out of sheer amazement at his mad skills. Like a poker player with a tight grasp of his cards, his stoic expression gives nothing away.

The group’s musicianship came to a definitive fore when they got to “Pasaquan,” an instrumental showcase that dances around a cultural motif. There was plenty of room to wander, as Trucks squeezed and squirmed through every crevice before handing things off to Dixon and his Hammond organ, eliciting shades of Booker T. commiserating with John McLaughlin and Miles Davis over a hot pot of bitches brew (the influence of Miles Davis would permeate throughout the night, especially when Ephraim Owens cut loose on his trumpet in the second set). Just before the piece came back around to Trucks, Tyler Greenwell and Isaac Eady delivered a riveting, freight-train-inspired drum duet — the kind of soloing no one in his right mind could feel good about walking away from to grab a beer at take a cigarette break.

After a 30-minute break, the group returned to the stage with more new music. There was Eady on guitar and Dixon’s son Liam on drums for “So Long Savior,” a soulful, gospel-flavored shuffle from I Am The Moon: Ascension, the second installment. The lead vocal shifted over to Dixon for “Gravity” from I Am The Moon: The Fall, the third installment. To hear all this new material live had to be a refreshing change for anyone who sees bands that usually only play the same old set of standards.

After Tedeschi showed off with a few guitar licks during the bluesy “Just Won’t Burn,” the title track from her 1998 solo album, another new one (and the last for the night) was rolled out in the form of “D’Gary,” from I Am The Moon: Farewell, the fourth and final installment. The song’s soothing cadence allowed Trucks to thoughtfully dot the I’s and cross the T’s, notes cascading forward through a jazzy, dreamlike state of total abandonment.

The rest of the set became more festive as fiesty covers of Bessie Smith’s “Gin House Blues” and Dr. John’s “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” had the whole floor and balcony of the Ryman swinging and sauntering in unison. “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” initially put the spotlight on Owens’ be-bopping trumpet, before shifting over to Mattison and Tedeschi for the vocals. A short break later, singers Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour exchanged some additional verses, more than earning their keep on the Ryman stage.

For the encore, a rousing romp through the Allman Brother Band’s “Stand Back,” bundled with an airy, exuberant take on Freddie Hubbard’s “Mr. Clean,” provided a little facetime for bassist Brandon Boone, who’d been steadily holding down the fort the whole night without so much as a murmur. Only trombonist Elizabeth Lea was denied an extended solo (though she gets her kicks in on other nights). To her credit, a shimmering white dress, key trombonian contributions, and general enthusiasm added faithfully to the mix.

Because of the focus on I Am The Moon for Friday’s show, fans new to the Tedeschi Trucks band experience might have felt a little left out. If you were there for all three nights, you certainly got the best of all worlds. For someone who’s seen the band — and maybe those who appreciate a little risk put into their music — Friday night was a dream vacation, far and away from the ordinary and straight into the extraordinary with nothing else to breathe in but the sweet aroma of free-form exploration. Maybe that’s why Tedeschi Trucks Band is the best example of real, authentic ‘Americana’ music on the circuit today — probably tomorrow as well.

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