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Monday, January 30, 2017

Concert Review: Tedeschi-Trucks Band


The first time I saw Susan Tedeschi perform was in September 2000, at BB King's Blues Festival at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis (the night Buddy Guy stole the show!). Her voice sounded like Bonnie Raitt's and she played a mean slide guitar like her, too. The next day, I bought a couple of Tedeschi CDs, but didn't see her again for more than 16 years.

Meanwhile, her career rolled along and she met and married Derek Trucks, nephew of original Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks. Derek also played a mean slide guitar as he toured with the ABB for many years and did some solo shows, too. Then he and Susan decided to merge their acts into the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, and hit the road -- as the only married blues guitarists I can name -- with ten musicians and singers behind them. That's the lineup that performed Wednesday night at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis.

I wasn't sure the show would go on, because that morning, news broke that Derek's uncle had killed himself at age 69. There was no announcement about postponing, though, so I joined a couple thousand other fans for the concert wondering whether there would be any tribute. Sure enough, Trucks and Tedeschi started their set with Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues" (see the fan-shot video above), which the Allmans had made famous on their 1971 "Live At The Fillmore East" album. Two and a half hours later, to bring it full circle, they wrapped it up with another ABB classic, "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed."

In between, they played several originals, as well as covers of Dylan's "Don't Think Twice," Elmore James' "The Sky Is Crying" (by way of Stevie Ray Vaughan), George Harrison's "Isn't It A Pity," and BB King's "How Blue Can You Get." For the encore, they whipped out Ray Charles' "Let's Go Get Stoned."

The crowd didn't need the urging of that last song, as the aroma of weed had permeated the Peabody for most of the night. I haven't touched the stuff since 1978, but got a pretty good contact high thanks to the guy in the row ahead of me.

I do have some complaints, though. One is that when the headliner is going to play for two-and-a-half hours, there's no need for an opening act that goes on for 40 minutes. I know that the idea is to warm up the crowd, but that's moot by the time they leave the stage and the crew takes 20 minutes to reset for the headliner.

In the jam-band tradition, some of the songs went on far too long, with jazzy improvisations that got too weird (I thought of Spinal Tap's "Jazz Odyssey" during one long stretch that included the trumpet player pretending he was Miles Davis and the keyboard player abusing the synthesizer like a member of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters). For much of the night, while Tedeschi worked center stage, Trucks was off to the side, rarely even facing the audience. Hey, if I wanted to hear you without seeing you, I would have stayed home with your live album.

To make those long jams worse, there were three (!) drum solos during the evening, including one during the opening act's set. Drum solos have always been self-indulgent exercises and should have been banned 25 years ago (particularly for the warm-up act), so three of them during the same show is akin to torture.

Then there's the problem I call Peabody Claustrophobia. I'd forgotten that the rows in the balcony are so close together there's no place for anyone over six feet tall to put their legs. I'm 6'4" (and wider than I should be), so it was an uncomfortable squeeze all night long, made worse by having to hold my heavy winter coat on my lap because if I'd put it on the seat behind me, I would have had to kick a couple of people in the head before wedging myself into the remaining space.

At least downstairs, in the orchestra seats, I can scoot my feet under the seat in front of me, but upstairs, it's impossible. Considering that the Peabody was retrofitted in 2011 after lying dormant for 20 years, they should have consulted with a few tall people before jamming the seats so close together. I've had more legroom on a Frontier flight.

Then again, what should I expect on a night where "jam" was the operative word?