Derek Trucks Band | 04.15 | S.F.

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Words by: Eric Podolsky | Images by: Susan J. Weiand

Derek Trucks Band :: 04.15.09 :: The Grand Ballroom :: San Francisco, CA

Derek Trucks :: 04.15 :: San Francisco
Derek Trucks has spent some time in the national spotlight in the past few years (touring with Clapton, appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone, Allman Brothers‘ 40th anniversary Beacon run, etc.), and based on raw musical talent, there are few who deserve it more. There is no doubt that in the under-30 league of guitarists playing today (and the argument could easily extend to all ages), the humble 29-year-old is already a seasoned veteran amongst his peers. Trucks has been gigging and rubbing elbows with rock & roll royalty for over 15 years since starting The Derek Trucks Band at 15, joining the ABB at 19 and hanging with his uncle Butch and the rest of the ABB family since much younger. The man was reared on the blues, and this was abundantly clear throughout the entirety of the DTB’s sold-out show at The Grand Ballroom at The Regency Center last Wednesday, which was graced by a very special guest mid-way through.

There was an intense, anticipatory air before the show in the packed ballroom, which was filled with a somewhat older crowd of music lovers. With a superb light show and stage backdrop behind them, Trucks and the band took the stage to thunderous applause, and began their set of thick Gibson-led blues, soul and R&B (with some funk and reggae thrown in for good measure). Vocalist Mike Mattison was the first in the spotlight, delivering his lines in a gravely, Howlin’ Wolf-like growl before Trucks took the reins with his chunky, joyous slide playing. The first standout tune was “Get What You Deserve,” which chugged away with a rollicking beat, sounding similar to the ABB’s “You Don’t Love Me.” This was one of the handful of tunes off the band’s new album Already Free, which are often more rock & roll than blues.

Count M’Butu :: 04.15 :: San Francisco
One particularly strong moment was an instrumental reading of “Rastaman Chant,” which saw percussionist Count M’Butu step out the reggae groove on congas. With Trucks “singing” the lead lines on slide, the tune started deliberate and subdued, which gave keyboardist Kofi Burbridge a chance to bust out his virtuoso jazz flute skills before Trucks drove it on home with a huge, triumphant wash of slide magic. From here, the band ran the gauntlet of roots music, from thumpin’ blues (the “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”-like “Meet Me At The Bottom”) to tranquil, Southern country hill music to burnin’, straight-outta-church soul. The latter was exemplified by “Days is Almost Gone,” where Trucks set the room on fire with his wailing Gibson, sounding like a recently-saved female gospel singer.

Many times during the night I found myself amazed at the very pure, real sounds that continuously poured out of Trucks. Though completely stolid in appearance, Trucks oozes soul from every pore when he performs, the kind of soul one would expect to come from a musician of an older generation. That being said, it’s easy to see him as a vessel for some force much older than himself, or he must just be one hell of an “old soul.” There is no filter in Trucks’ playing – it just flows forth, straight from the source. The blues is supposed to come from years of hard times and heartache, but it clearly manifests itself in other forms from time to time.

Trucks & Santana :: 04.15 :: San Francisco
With the room thoroughly raved-up, the band again took it way down and slinked into a free-form reading of “My Favorite Things” inspired by Coltrane. From this point on, the music reached monumental heights, solidifying it as my favorite concert experience so far this year. With its experimental jazz tones, “My Favorite Things” can be seen as the DTB’s “Mountain Jam.” The tune was approached as straight free-jazz-rock, with Burbridge playing a mean jazz piano and drummer Yonrico Scott pounding away under Trucks’ incredibly inspired lead. It was here that we really heard the man open up to the cosmos, letting forth huge flourishes of crescendos which rose and fell with melodic flurries, evoking a lotus opening and closing, as the music is brought down to a hush. This tune alone solidified in my head the term “Guitar God” for Mr. Trucks, right then and there.

It was near the end of “My Favorite Things” that a silhouette appeared in the shadows stage left, a man in a white fedora hat, taking drags from something, orange ember glowing in the dark. He then proceeded to strap on a guitar. The man was soon introduced to the audience as one Carlos Santana, who joined the band for the rest of their marathon set, propelling the music to another level with his child-like eagerness to rock the fuck out.

From the first piercing, meaty notes of Santana’s guitar, everyone knew it was now on for real. From here on out, the show turned into one huge, rockin’ display of guitar mastery. The band started into a Latin groove reminiscent of “Guajira” from Santana III, but I would call it “Santana Jam” on a set list, as it acted as a vehicle to start off Santana’s blazing guitar duels with Trucks. Santana’s energy and youthful exuberance was infectious, making the calm and poised Trucks appear the elder of the two. Carlos peaked out his first shredding solo in all the Rock God glory he could muster, and then proceeded to hop and dance around the stage to Trucks’ response. Bassist Todd Smallie sported a shit-eating grin for the entirety of Santana’s stage time, and the sentiment was shared by all.

Scott, Smallie, Trucks & Santana :: 04.15 :: San Francisco
The band soon dropped into the New Orleans groove of “Get Out Of My Life, Woman,” and the rest is a blur of triumphant, lengthy guitar excursions. Santana and Trucks were continually engaging, and busted into many improvised ABB-style harmonized licks throughout the marathon jam. Burbridge switched to clavinet, and the groove got real funky for a while, then Santana busted out the lick to “Who Knows,” his old bandmate Buddy Miles’ tune. The band followed, resulting in a full-blown “Who Knows” jam sung by Yonrico Scott, whose drumming Santana was really feeding off of.

To make things even better, the next vehicle for rip-roaring guitar duels was Derek and the Dominoes’ “Anyday.” If there is anyone qualified to play songs from this album, it is Trucks (who is supposedly named after it). Santana kept up his playful, searing licks, even throwing a “Blue Sky” tease in at one point. After bringing it down and trading some subdued, gorgeous blues licks with Santana, Trucks and the band peaked it out and called it a night, leaving us in slack-jawed awe at the monster showcase we had just witnessed.

The encore was a Santana-less version of “Sweet Inspiration” (sounding much like a bluesy “Suspicious Minds”) to bring us home. The band thanked the audience, with Trucks, ever humble and ego-less, letting the others do the talking. Judging from the “wow” faces on both band and audience members, all parties seemed aware that this had been a very special night.

There are not many bands these days making music as pure, unfiltered and tasteful as The Derek Trucks Band. The music is simultaneously clean and raunchy (as the best blues usually is), and their chemistry is effortless, as will come with 15 years of playing together. But, only so much can be said and written about the live experience. The playing of Derek Trucks must be seen and heard in the moment to be truly understood, as he is all about feel. As he is only 29, we hopefully will have plenty of opportunities to experience him. Just imagine the bluesman he’ll be when he’s 50!

Check the videos from this show for proof!

Check our recent, exclusive feature/interview with Derek Trucks here. And if you want to reminisce about another epic sit-in from Santana, check our vintage review of when Carlos joined the Trey Anastasio Band back in 2003 here.

The Derek Trucks Band is on tour now, catch the feeling here.

Continue reading for more pics of The Derek Trucks Band and Santana in San Francisco…

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