The Tedeschi Trucks Band IS the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
They could set up outside I.M. Pei’s Cleveland temple of tunes and play every song inside, for years. But that would deprive the rest of us out here of the unique power and pleasure they bring us. Best big rock ’n’ roll circus on wheels, they play virtuoso-grade rock, blues, soul, jazz and country.
Whenever they return to SPAC — this Sunday! — they surprise us with range and depth and groove. Like NRBQ, TTB makes music with fresh ingredients, honoring the familiar but owning it their way. “The band plays better when we’re doing new material. Even if it’s something we’ve played before, we do a new take on it,” said Derek Trucks last week from a tour-stop hotel.
“We’re pretty lucky with this band,” he said modestly, explaining how the versatile music machine he and wife/singer-fellow guitarist Susan Tedeschi built more than a decade ago absorbs new (or new/old) songs through time-honed, stage-tested telepathy. “When there’s a new idea floating around, usually other people have heard it, too,” he said. “We retain the information pretty quick and when we start to rehearse it, that goes pretty quickly.”
He gave a recent example. “Aretha Franklin’s version of Elton John’s ‘Border Song,’ Susan had been listening to that for a week or two before rehearsals,” Trucks said. “When everybody showed up, we played it through once and I knew immediately when she started singing it and our singers (TTB has three) got on it. I got chills immediately.” He said, “I knew this is gonna be good. … The whole band sunk their teeth into it.” He also cited Leon Russell’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” — “that’s also tailor-made for us.”
Now, both “Border Song” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” pop up in TTB shows, along with tunes by Derek and the Dominos, Willie Nelson, Santana, Blind Willie McTell/Allman Brothers and Joe Cocker. Noting how tradition underlines the band’s entire approach, Trucks said, “We try to carry it forward as a living thing.”
Covers or originals, the setlist often changes, even during the show. Last July, standing in the SPAC photo pit ready to shoot, I watched Tedeschi, guitar already strapped on, calmly changing the setlist in the wings. “We call a lot of audibles at the line of scrimmage,” laughed Trucks. Sometimes the crowd/room vibe suggests a consensus change onstage. “I’ll turn around to the drummers [to cue a change] and realize they’re already thinking something close to the same thing I am,” said Trucks. “We’re already on the same page” — without a word.
TTB drummer Tyler Greenwell suggested Gabe Dixon to replace the late Kofi Burbridge, who died in February just months after playing SPAC with the band last July. “Losing Kofi, it’s just … the band will never be the same,” said Trucks. “He was such a huge part of us as people and as a band.” He continued, “There’s a part of almost every song we ever wrote that he had a hand in. He’s forever part of the group and we feel him with us every night. A song will come along and we’ll all just feel him.
“He was such a badass, and a soldier — and he was looking forward at all times,” said Trucks with emphasis. “Knowing what he would have done, we all just charge ahead.” Also new to TTB is bassist Brandon Boone. “They helped the rest of the band get through this time by learning all our material, and playing it so honest and so fresh,” he said, nailing the band’s strengths, along with unity in supporting each other.
Watching from the photo pit last July, I usually stood in front of Trucks’ amp, hearing how his rhythm guitar held everything together, chopping chords into the beat, high energy all the way. Trucks liked hearing this and explained. “When I first started, I was so intrigued with how Elmore James and Duane Allman played slide, and I realized how important rhythm guitar is.” He said, “Listening to Doyle Bramhall in the Clapton band, that was important to me, too; how he played such unique and important parts no one noticed.” Recalling Burbridge’s supportive energy and imagination, Trucks said, “It was like that with Kofi, too; comping underneath, he played parts no one noticed. I enjoy doing that as much as anything onstage.”
Trucks acknowledged how fun and exciting soloing is in the 12-piece band’s burly mix. “When you’re soloing and really flying, that’s an amazing feeling. But when you’re playing rhythm behind somebody and it’s totally locked, I love being back there,” he added.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band plays SPAC (Saratoga Performing Arts Center, routes 9 and 50, Saratoga Springs) on Sunday at 7 p.m. Blackberry Smoke and Shovels and Rope open. Guitarist Charlie Starr from Blackberry Smoke started joining TTB onstage to jam on “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Key to the Highway” the first nights of the tour. $234, $209, $149, $134, $99.50, $89.50, $69.50, $49.50, $35; lawn $19.50 and $29.50 with chair rental). 800-745-3000 www.livenation.com/venues/14310/saratoga-performing-arts-center
Whatever the weather, SPAC gets hot this week.
Country bros Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell, Jon Langston and DJ Rock jump-start the fun tonight. 7 p.m. $186.50-133.50 inside, lawn $38.50
As regular at SPAC as the Beach Boys once were, the Dave Matthews Band returns Friday and Saturday. 8 p.m. Lawn only $45.50
Skidmore’s Tang Teaching Museum (615 Broadway, Saratoga Springs) launches its 19th season of Upbeat on the Roof free shows tonight with Nu-Note: Skidmore students playing bossa nova and R&B. 7 p.m. Rain site: inside the Tang. 518-580-8080 www.tang.skidmore.edu
Spyro Gyra plays elegant, cool-breeze fusion jazz Friday at The Egg. 8 p.m. $36. 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org
On Saturday, guitarist/master of all stringed things David Bromberg brings his quintet to the Cohoes Music Hall (58 Remsen St.) 7 p.m. $57, $47. 518-953-0630 www.thecohoesmusichall.org
Casuarina plays Music Haven (Central Park, Schenectady) Sunday; Eduardo de Carvahlo e Forro de Bom open. Honored as Best Samba Group in the Brazilian Music Awards, the quartet makes jaunty dance music. 7 p.m. Free. Food special: Feijoada, a Brazilian stew with black beans, beef and pork, over rice. www.musichavenstage.org
On Tuesday, troubadour-activist Martha Redbone plays the Spirit of the Suffragettes summer concert series at Freedom Square (35 Fifth Ave., Troy, where 5th and 6th avenues meet at 101st Street), sponsored by the Sanctuary for Independent Media, which is also the rain site — 3361 6th Ave. Expressing African-American and Native American ancestry, Redbone is rootsy as American music gets. 518-272-2390 www.mediasanctuary.org
On Wednesday, the Turbans from London play Music Haven — maybe the most international hybrid band of the whole season. After founders Oshan Mahony (guitar) and Darius Luke Thompson (violin) met in Kathmandu, they busked their way west toward Britain, recruiting players from Turkey, Bulgaria, Israel, Iran, Greece, Spain and England into an eastern hemisphere mix. 7 p.m. Free. Rain site: Proctors. Food special: falafel on pita.
Almost jazzed out after SPAC’s fest, I missed many cool shows at Skidmore’s Jazz Institute last week. But I did hie myself to the Van Dyck last Tuesday for Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble. The low brass — three trombones and tuba — were all subs, but that didn’t matter because the rhythm section of Bob Halek, drums; Lou Smaldone, bass; and David Gleason, piano, were at the wheel and know the map. (Super sub) valve trombonist Tyler Giroux gave the night a great launch on Flip Phillips “Flying Home.” The rest of the set was graced with solos from busy tenor-man Brian Patneaude: “Quiet Revolution,” “Punjab,” “After the Rain” — love how Pray arranges sax-songs to feature trumpets! — “Sister Sadie,” “The Journey,” “Free Bird” — really! And it swung – “Boo-dah,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You” — Halek brought the funk, big time — “Congo Mulence,” and “West Hill Shout.”
I was too jazzed out to hang for the second set, but check this:
Pray leads his Ortet Sunday at the Cock ’N’ Bull (5342 Parkis Mills Road, Galway). It’s Pray, saxophones; guest star Tony Monaco, organ; Tim Reyes, guitar; and Jeff Dowd, drums. Two sets starting at 7 p.m. $10. 518-882-6962 www.thecockandbull.com
New Orleans powerhouse Davell Crawford plays the Cock ’N’ Bull tonight. He loves the room and the room loves him. He’s played it half a dozen times, always to happy crowds delighted by the soulful depth and street parade uplift of his voice and piano. This time he brings a trio. $15. Regular menu, plus jambalaya. 7:30 p.m.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]