By Ethan Shanfeld
17 Jan, 2019
Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks are rock ‘n’ roll royalty. Married for over 20 years, the couple had each been successful as solo artists before uniting musically in 2010, creating Tedeschi Trucks Band. With four studio and two live albums, the group has proven to be one of the leading forces in the roots revival movement, bringing their signature blend of blues, soul, jam rock and funk to stages around the world.
On Friday, Jan. 17, the 12-piece band kicked off the first of four nights at The Chicago Theatre with “Come See About Me,” a wonky blues number that fuses a deep funky bassline with overlaid acoustic and electric guitar riffs. They then slipped into the smoother, moodier “Do I Look Worried,” during which Tedeschi unleashed her upper range and Trucks showed off his signature slide guitar chops.
Trucks, named by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 guitarists of all time, has a rather shy demeanor on stage, barely facing the crowd or lifting his eyes. But what he lacks in showmanship he greatly makes up for in skill. At times his playing is controlled and smooth. Deliciously sweet and melodic. Other times it’s explosive, tensely urgent and emotional. Untamed and beautifully screechy.
Backup vocalist Mike Mattison was front and center for much of the show, leading soulful covers of Titus Turner’s famous “Sticks and Stones” and Billy Taylor’s jazzy “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” Mattison’s Motown growl counterbalanced Tedeschi’s warm rasp well and added a fresh voice to the set.
Still, Mattison’s gruff lowness sounded like a James Brown imitation at times, most evidently on the new “Signs, High Times,” in which the three backup singers trade lines rather cornily.
Paying homage to their musical heritage, the band covered “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” by The Allman Brothers Band. Derek’s late uncle Butch Trucks was their founding drummer, and Derek officially joined the group in 1999. Tedeschi Trucks Band also ripped through two Derek & The Dominos songs, “Key To The Highway” and “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” In the former, Tedeschi and Trucks each took guitar solos reflecting their own individual styles, hers traditionally bluesy and his howling and high-pitched. Mattison burst out with the final chorus and the crowd went wild, drunk middle-aged men dancing in the aisles and throwing their hands up. In the latter, Trucks emulated Eric Clapton’s fast riffing, but the band slowed the song down compared to the original version. When Trucks was just 13 years old, he was covering Derek & The Dominos songs while opening for The Allman Brothers Band, so needless to say he has come full circle.
The band opened the second of two sets separated by an intermission with “I’m Gonna Be There,” a track from their 2019 album Signs. This song was a clear highlight of the night, its dark, restricted verses contrasted by its grand singalong chorus. Along with saxophonist Kebbi Williams, Trucks closed the song out with an epic, wailing guitar solo.
Another fan-favorite was the jangly “Part of Me,” which features sweet backup vocals and a shuffling drumbeat. The song showcased both drummers (Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson), the harmony vocalists (Mattison, Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour) and the horn section (Williams, Elizabeth Lea and Ephraim Owens).
Toward the end of the night, the band veered into “Learn How To Love,” a hard rocker reminiscent of the band’s heavier contemporaries like Rival Sons. The song has a distorted-guitar driven groove that will give even casual listeners the stank face. While Trucks’ guitar work is pristine, Tedeschi’s powerhouse vocals are really what carry the song. Her voice has both a motherly comfort and a bone-rattling grit to it. What other 49-year-old blues singer has teenage boys yelling “Marry me!” from the crowd?
After closing the second set with “I Want More” from their 2016 album Let Me Get By, the band came back for an encore, performing The Coasters’ “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” though it sounded more like the Joe Cocker version.
Tedeschi Trucks Band are not trying to reinvent the wheel. Though, they bring a surprising freshness to rock music while honoring those who came before them. Catch them next weekend for an entirely new setlist, picked from their vast discography and arsenal of classic rock covers.