Tedeschi Trucks Band performs at the Warner Theatre on Feb. 16, 2023. (Photo by Shedrick Pelt)
Jam bands often get a bad rap among some music fans. A photographer I’ve worked with told me he has trouble with the “unstructured” nature of such music. But as the Tedeschi Trucks Band demonstrated recently, in their first of six appearances at the Warner Theatre (split into two groups of three shows, with some other stops in between), you can’t call this band unstructured.
The secret to improvisation is that it actually requires a deep, even intuitive understanding of musical structure. Only such a deep understanding of musical structure and patterns allows a unit — especially one as large as the Tedeschi Trucks Band — to cut loose and free in their live show, to explore bold sonic vistas.
All music depends on the manipulation of patterns, beginning with the pattern of beats established by a piece’s time signature. The reason you hear certain chord progressions and not others, is that certain chord progressions work. Sometimes, musicians break from these patterns, particularly in experimental or avant-garde music, but that is done very intentionally — it’s never an accident, and it requires a fair amount of sophistication to pull it off. Much like in writing, you have to know the rules to break the rules.
The level of musical proficiency in Tedeschi Trucks is quite possibly unmatched in rock bands playing today. To find musicians of similar skill, one has to look to other genres, like jazz or classical. Lead guitarist Dereck Trucks, considered by many the best at the instrument in the world, sets the standard for the band, often incorporating music even beyond the wide variety of American styles and genres in TTB’s music; at the beginning of their first song, “Anyhow,” on Feb. 16, one could hear a tinge of Indian sounds.
Watch Tedeschi Trucks Band perform “Anyhow” live in studio on YouTube:
TTB won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album for their debut album, 2012’s Revelator, but when I interviewed lead vocalist Susan Tedeschi several years ago, she told me she doesn’t consider what they do blues, at least not in any proper sense, preferring the term “Americana” as a descriptor for what they do. There are certainly blues elements in their music, but one also hears a lot of New Orleans: Dixieland, ragtime, and jazz, and the horn section brings some Memphis flavor into the mix.
TTB’s set delved extensively into their catalog, even going back to Truck’s work in his previous, eponymous band with “Chevrolet” and “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.” The set included the title cut of the 2019 LP Signs and “Do I Look Worried,” released on their sophomore album, Made Up Mind. They gave a fair amount of attention to their latest release, the 4-volume I Am The Moon. The project is based on a Persian love poem, The Story of Layla and Manjun, written by Nizami Ganjavi. It’s the very same work that inspired much of Eric Clapton’s work on Layla, an album that has greatly influenced TTB; Trucks’ parents named him Derek after Derek and the Dominoes. The set paid tribute to Clapton’s influence with a cover of “Bell Bottom Blues.”
Watch a visualizer video for “I Am The Moon” by Tedeschi Trucks Band on YouTube:
Released over several months last summer, I Am The Moon doesn’t really tell a straightforward narrative, instead pulling out thematic material from the epic poem as the basis for songs like the title track, “Passaquan,” “Rainy Day,” “Take Me As I Am,” and “Playing With My Emotions.” For their epic encounter, TTB turned to the title track from the third album, Let Me Get By.
Before TTB took the stage, keyboardist Gabe Dixon opened the show with a well-received set that included “Ain’t About Time,” “Further The Sky,” “Something Good,” and “Song Don’t Fail Me,” co-written and released on Bonnie Bishop’s latest album. It’s worth noting that, while Tedeschi and Trucks may be at the center of the band, it’s a collective effort. They write many of their songs with participation from the members of the band, making it a collective effort.
Tedeschi Trucks Band returns to the Warner Theatre in DC on March 2, 3, and 4!
Buy your tickets to see Tedeschi Trucks on Thursday, March 2!
Buy your tickets to see Tedeschi Trucks on Friday, March 3!
Buy your tickets to see Tedeschi Trucks on Saturday, March 4!
Here are some photos of Tedeschi Trucks Band performing at Warner Theatre on Feb. 16, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Shedrick Pelt.