Tedeschi Trucks Band Closes 2019 Beacon Residency: The Brutality Of All-Timer Expectations
A good idea becomes a tradition and a tradition becomes an institution — yep, we’re there by now when it comes to Tedeschi Trucks Band‘s fall residency at the storied Beacon Theatre in New York City, now in its ninth year. The sprawling band took the weight of its associative history — not least that The Allman Brothers Band made the Beacon their second home for decades — and made its own thing, consciously embracing, while also moving forward from, the musical ghosts of wild Beacon nights past.
The challenge for the TTB becomes how to sustain such momentum: as a band, as a touring outfit, as a tradition-bearer for a discerning New York crowd used to the kind of regularly eye-popping moments other music cities rarely get. A band this size evolves slowly, and it’s easy to let the comforts of tradition yield to predictability, as the Allmans occasionally did at the Beacon in leaner musical years — guests galore and covers aplenty to help spark excitement when the mojo wasn’t as easy to come by. There are guests and staple covers here, too — carpers might say too many, especially at the thinner shows of this 2019 run — but the TTB know how to construct a setlist to not overdo it.
What’s changed most about the TTB is the strength of the original music they write or record, which took time to meet the bar of how they play the music they cover. It’s maybe no coincidence that this shift coincided with years that, for the TTB, have been both triumphant and death-haunted — Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks, Col. Bruce Hampton, Leon Russell, Kofi Burbridge, Scott Boyer, Yonrico Scott and how many more. The material on Signs, their 2019 record, lands in the Venn diagram where hope meets defiance meets melancholy meets inevitability. This is passionate, knowing music — the band’s most mature statement to date as recording artists.
In the room for two tasty sets on the final night of the run, it was the recent TTB originals I felt drawn to most, especially “Hard Case” and “Shame” from Signs and barnburners like “Just As Strange” and “The Storm.” The potency of the Tedeschi Trucks Band as a live band was apparent right away when they first started up, but consistent original material took longer, give or take the great songs like “Midnight In Harlem” that stand out as “whoa” when surrounded by covers and/or decent excuses to sing and jam. The later tunes, however, stick, you feel how loaded they are, and then feel the emotional weight of the band compelled to create them. In contrast, when you hear the Tedeschi Trucks Band boogie and strut through its versions of “The Letter” or “Space Captain” or “I Want to Take You Higher” or any number of Layla tunes or any of their other go-to covers, you feel … happy, yeah, but also know they’re playing several levels away from the depth they can hit when song strength, band strength and jam strength are all locked in at once.
One way to think about it is that it’s frustrating; why does their setlist need so much window dressing, still? Another way to think about it is as needless worry. The Tedeschi Trucks Band is one of the most exciting live bands in the world, has been for some time now, and feels like one of the hallmark ensembles of the generation. They’ve set their own ridiculously high standards for what a punch-the-clock show is, and what a truly extraordinary show is. So much of what the paying public sees in live music in general is solidly, pleasantly “B,” so we’re asking how a consistent “A” becomes an “A+”? You want to stare down the mouth of that gift horse, friend?
Yes, because we know what an “A+” TTB show looks and sounds like, and Saturday’s Beacon run finale was in the ballpark, up to bat, even, but without rounding the bases. Two sets up, two sets down, and a mesmerizing panorama of moods, textures, genres, sounds and feels, thanks to a band in staggering command of its strengths. It was a great show. It was an adequate Tedeschi Trucks Band show.
Finding a coherent sound was always something that eluded the Derek Trucks Band — they were sonically adventurous and unbelievably interesting, but somehow stayed remote and uncharismatic. Tedeschi’s former band, in contrast, was accessible and warm-hearted, if a bit narrow and predictable. What the two principals do ever more here is balance those dominant tendencies; it’s too cute to call it a yin-and-yang, but it’s not inaccurate. And when there’s an entire, beamingly big band behind them willing to support that balance, well, that’s where the magic ignites.
The band is finding its way back. It doesn’t feel quite as integrated these days; how can it, with two new players in key roles in 2019? Bassist Brandon Boone and keyboardist Gabe Dixon, aces both in their own right, will take time and experience to help do what another version of the TTB was already starting to, which is enrich and draw more out of the music with asides, experiments, and interesting interactions among its ensemble players. No band with Tedeschi and Trucks in the title will ever put Tedeschi or Trucks in a supporting role, but what they were on to as recently as two years ago was a band that could meet even higher levels of its potential because they were just that friggin’ comfortable and locked in.
Saturday’s show had some really fun moments; the opening “Don’t Do It,” the romps and struts through “Sticks & Stones,” “How Blue Can You Get,” “Part Of Me” and “Joyful Noise,” the tasty guest appearance from Joss Stone, perfectly paired with Tedeschi and the backing vocalists for the Four Tops’ immortal “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.” We got our Allmans jollies — and how fun to see old pal Ricky Gordon on washboard for “Statesboro Blues”! — and we got our Derek & The Dominos jollies, and we got our Mad Dogs & Englishmen jollies. The superb vocalists — Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour — were spicy, soulful and on point all night. The horns were popping, especially saxophonist Kebbi WIlliams, though Ephraim Owens and Elizabeth Lea were judiciously in the thick of it. Dixon picked his spots and delivered; Boone was a confident, no-bullshit anchor. And the drum corps of Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson were put through the paces and met the challenge, especially in the all-killer back half of the second set, ending with “The Storm” and its mutation into “Whipping Post.”
When the Tedeschi Trucks Band went higher than jollies, however, we were not only delighted, but slayed. Perhaps not surprisingly, those moments put Tedeschi or Trucks in the center of the action. “Shame” and “Midnight in Harlem” came back to back in the first set, and Trucks destroyed each of them with two otherworldly, couldn’t-have-been-more-different, solos. Mid-way through the second set, the Allmans’ “Dreams,” which the band gamely started covering just this year, seized control of the night and demanded all of its energy keep pace as Trucks worked the classic tune’s anguish into a shattering climax. Tedeschi, who left everything on stage vocal-wise, stopped playing at one point in deference to how good it was. A song later, Trucks did the same thing, leaving Tedeschi to pull the room into her orbit and offer one of her best-ever versions of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” — butter-tender, achingly beautiful, so moving the audience sang in unison with every pronouncement of the title lyric.
A TTB show can hinge on those two things: Tedeschi’s charm and Trucks’ guitar sorcery. More words get used and abused on the latter subject than anything else related to the TTB, but man, it almost seems like too much will never be enough; when Trucks is deep in a solo, working out its angles, trying variations that even Trucks wonks who’ve heard him 1,000 times wouldn’t feel they’ve heard, building to a state that leaves the room in a trance, well, he stops time. All the energy in the show — no matter what’s come before it or will come after it, or who’s on stage, or what song it is — gets pulled into his gravitational pull, and his is the last word.
Not every moment in a show can feel like what happened when Tedeschi sang “Don’t Think Twice” or Trucks laid waste to “Dreams” or “Midnight In Harlem,” but the TTB makes you think it can. That’s why, at times when it’s merely fun, it never feels like enough.
Full Show Fan-Shot Video Captured by Scott Gibson
Set One: Don’t Do It, Do I Look Worried, Within You Without You > Just As Strange, Shelter, Hard Case, Shame, Midnight In Harlem, Sticks & Stones
Set Two: Tell The Truth, Lovin’ You Is Sweeter Than Ever1, Joyful Noise, Statesboro Blues2, Part Of Me, Made Up Mind, Dreams, Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright), How Blue Can You Get3, The Storm > Whipping Post
Encore: With A Little Help From My Friends
- 1 w/Joss Stone, vocals
- 2 w/Ricky Gordon, washboard
- 3 w/DeShawn Alexander, keys