Words by Jared Newman
Derek Trucks Band :: 01.22.06 :: Florence Gould Hall :: New York, NY
There's a 35-year age difference between John Savoca, who was seeing Derek Trucks Band for his third time, and his son Michael, who had never seen them before. Not that they're an unlikely duo; among the crowd at Manhattan's Florence Gould Hall on January 22nd were at least two other father-son pairs, a couple of pre-adolescent kids, and even a few scraggly gray beards.
Derek Trucks Band by Susan J. Weiand
It's easy to see why Derek Trucks Band's appeal is so broad. They play a mix of blues and jazz and cover a lot of songs that have stood the test of time. At the helm of it all is a guy who is widely considered to be a slide guitar virtuoso. While the slide carries the risk of sounding whiney, Trucks uses the tool gracefully, often pulling his notes out from indiscernible cacophony into a place where they are clear and beautiful.
The crowd of all ages applauded but did not rise when Trucks and his band took the stage. It was a warm, attentive reception that seemed fitting for Florence Gould Hall, a 400-seat acoustic nirvana that's often home to French cinema and theatre.
The band opened with "Mahjourn," a sweeping, pastoral meditation with Trucks leading on guitar, Kofi Burbridge playing the flute, Yonrico Scott handling the drum kit, and the rest of the band — percussionist Count M'Butu, bassist Todd Smallie and vocalist Mike Mattison — contributing with various percussive instruments.
Derek Trucks by Blake Budney
It wasn't long before the band shifted gears. Smallie dropped his shaker and Burbridge put down his flute in favor of the keyboards, and the band segued into an incendiary take on the traditional standard "Greensleeves."
It was hard not to notice Derek Trucks' strumming hand as he riffed away on the guitar. Usually, it's the hand on the fingerboard that makes for the most captivating showmanship, but in his case it was the hand over the bridge. His fingers were always gliding effortlessly over the strings, as if the strings weren't even there.
Meanwhile, the "Greensleeves" jam was escalating, and suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, Yonrico Scott tossed his right drumstick into the air. It twirled around for a moment before landing safely in his hand, just in time to hit a cymbal and bring the song to its concluding measures.
Mattison & Trucks by Blake Budney
Scott is the largest man of the group, and his stage presence sharply contrasts the shyness of Trucks. In addition to being a damn good drummer, Scott always looks like he's shocked by the beats he's creating. His eyes bulge, and his head and shoulders are constantly shifting.
When the band started playing the first few bars of "All I Do," Mike Mattison, who had been sitting in an armless chair in the back-left corner of the stage, stood up and started wandering towards the microphone. The rest of the band was doing a pretty good job with instrumental music, and Mattison walked slowly, glancing around as if he wasn't sure he was welcome.
Mattison started to sing, and it became clear why it was Derek Trucks' band — not because Mattison is a bad singer but because his voice is more like another instrument than the featured attraction. Amongst the riff and melody-driven music created by Trucks and his fellow instrumentalists, Mattison's vocals don't stand out — they fit in.
Mike Mattison by Blake Budney
A singer with incredible range, Mattison lowered his voice to a growl for a performance of Taj Mahal's "Chevrolet," and he nailed the falsetto so well on "Soul Serenade" that it sounded like Maxine Brown had taken the stage. As Mattison sang, he cocked his head back and to the side, and his mouth gaped with the delivery of each word.
The band broke things down with a bluesy, back-porch version of Toots and the Maytals' "Sailing On" before proceeding to the set closer - a funky cover of "Up Above My Head" by The Rance Allen Group. Smallie and Burbridge shared the vocal duties for the song's refrain, "I hear the music / Way up above my head," and Trucks capped things off with some more guitar. Though it's unusual for a band to take a breather only seven songs in, even the best bands drag on if the set is too long.
DTB opened the second half with "Key to the Highway," treating it with the same crunching guitar and wailing vocals as the Derek and the Dominos version. Later, the crowd was happy to hear the Ray Charles tune "Let's Go Get Stoned" (perhaps to the dismay of some parents with younger children).
Kofi Burbridge by Susan J. Weiand
The highlight of the set, however, came towards the end, when things started to get funky. Kofi Burbridge's keyboard chops in "Everything is Everything" were so good that it made Trucks look like a bad guy for hogging the limelight. And there was even a bass solo by permanently smirking Todd Smallie, who didn't really have a chance to show off his skills until then.
The crowd, perhaps anticipating the end of the show, gave a standing ovation to the band when the song was over. But as Mattison began to croon the opening lines of Aretha Franklin's "Spirit in the Dark," the audience returned to their seats. It seemed like a slow number at first — hardly the way to end a show — but it quickly morphed into a funky groove, leading to an all out gospel jam with various band members trading licks at practically random intervals.
Trucks thanked the crowd and the band left the stage, but they were back for an encore only a minute later. Count M'Butu, who had been sitting quietly behind his bongos all night, grabbed the mic and told the audience to start dancing. The front few rows stood up and started to bop as the band played another funky song called "Hook and Sling."
Derek Trucks by Blake Budney
Apparently, "Hook" and "Sling" are dance moves, and M'Butu, the oldest member of the band, demonstrated both. To hook is to swoop the arms and shoulders down, to the left, and up in one motion. To sling is to do the opposite — to swing the shoulders and arms up and to the right. The crowd wasn't really getting it, but the band was cracking up. At one point, Burbridge mashed his head against the keyboard.
For a band of such extraordinary talent, DTB isn't all that adventurous. They stick to the songs they know, and they perform the hell out of them. Should more be expected from these guys than a pile of soul and blues covers and a handful of originals? Maybe, but the songs they play and the way they play them is part of why they draw such a diverse crowd, and it's hard to scold a band that introduces good music to a wide audience.
JamBase | NYC
Go See Live Music!