Susan Tedeschi Band
The Fillmore | San Francisco, CA | 12.17.02

Photo by John Croxton
It's a long way from backyard parties in Boston to the stage at the legendary Fillmore in San Francisco. But that's just where Massachusetts native Susan Tedeschi stood as she surveyed an adoring crowd and prepared to deliver a performance well worthy of the historic venue. Grounded in the blues, the singer-songwriter-guitarist and her band mixed styles and tempos to create a powerful yet nuanced sound that both rocked the house and touched the soul.

Selecting songs from her entire catalog while highlighting her newest release, Wait For Me, Tedeschi showed why she has enjoyed a recent rise in popularity. With a voice that is part Bonnie Raitt, part Janis Joplin and yet distinctively her own, she is as adept at a soft ballad as a down and dirty blues. Her crack band (William Green - Hammond B3 organ, Jason Crosby - piano and fiddle, Ron Perry - bass, and Jeff Sipe - drums) provided a solid framework and heartfelt solos that created a rich tapestry for Tedeschi's searing blues guitar. Green danced and swayed at his keyboard, as if channeling the music, and the crowd danced along.

Photo by John Croxton
Following an entertaining opening set by young Northern California songwriter Jackie Greene, Tedeschi dug into a thick and bluesy "In the Garden" that immediately showcased her tremendous vocal talent. A subtle and haunting fiddle solo by Crosby was perfectly placed. "You Can Make It If You Try" was quiet and hopeful. "It's an honor to be playing the Fillmore," Tedeschi told the ecstatic crowd, as she kicked it up a notch with the rockin' "I Fell in Love," which featured hot keyboard jams and a fiery guitar solo that raised the room temperature about 15 degrees. A blues-funk "Wait For Me" again gave the band room to stretch out. Simple backing and another tender fiddle solo made the strong vocals on Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice" all the more powerful. The fun, upbeat "Gonna Move" was reminiscent of Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" with a swingin' beat and singalong chorus. "Hampmotized," a funky number written in honor of southern guitarist Col. Bruce Hampton, featured a hot jam with a bass solo and keyboards playing call and response. "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean," a high-energy blues that evoked Stevie Ray Vaughn as much as anyone, brought out the best in Tedeschi and Crosby's soloing. The loping "Feeling Music Brings," co-written with husband Derek Trucks, blended a Southern guitar sound with gospel-like vocals.

Photo by John Croxton
Ironically, the only letdown of the night was her new single, "Alone," which has a pretty melody but really didn't go anywhere. Crosby returned to the fiddle on "Looking for Answers," jamming with Tedeschi. A stunning rendition of John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" closed the set, with a moving fiddle solo drawing a hush. Tedeschi surprised the crowd by interjecting a verse from Jerry Garcia's "Sugaree," paying homage to the Fillmore's many ghosts, before finishing with Prine's sobering lyric: "To believe in this living is just a hard way to go..." The crowd didn't want her to go, giving her a wild ovation as the band left the stage.

Photo by John Croxton
Tedeschi returned for her encore backed only by Crosby on piano. The spare accompaniment enhanced the emotional punch of "Wrapped in the Arms of Another," with Tedeschi simply stating "If it's meant to be, it will be." She ended the show with an exquisite, heart-rending version of Joni Mitchell's "River," an appropriate choice for the season ("It's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees") that brought some in the crowd to tears. As her crystal clear voice faded to a close, the crowd caught its collective breath and savored every note. Susan Tedeschi has clearly come into her own, a long way from the backyards she played less than 10 years ago. And blues/roots music fans are all the better for it.

John Waldman
JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 12/23/02]

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