Five years ago, I would’ve vehemently balked at any invitation to spend an evening with either Susan Tedeschi’s sultry electric blues or Derek Trucks’ nth iteration of Allman Brothers’ Southern boogie. No disrespect, it’s just that what they do just wasn’t my thing. It still isn’t my thing, but their effort combined as the Tedeschi Trucks Band has charmed me into a summer fling with their music. I’m not sure if it was the World Cafe interview Tedeschi gave last year about wanting to experience life on the road with Trucks (her husband) and their family, or the knowing glances of love between the two in this clip for “Midnight in Harlem,” but I was infinitely intrigued to hear what they could accomplish together. Maybe it’s a sign of age or giving up on punk (probably not), but the genuine soul behind the collaboration holds universal appeal whether you’re a fan of the blues they’ve previously mined or not.
What the couple has assembled goes beyond anything they’ve done in the past. The Tedeschi Trucks Band is an 11-piece mammoth or, as the middle-aged fan behind me kept describing them, a “Tower of Power at the Crossroads.” Though the guitars of Tedeschi and Trucks took centerstage during most of the show, the duo owes much of its newly tapped energy to the musicians surrounding them, namely two competent drummers, a strong Muscle Shoals-esque horn section, an organist playing through vintage Leslie cabinets, a bassist, and two background singers who took turns wowing the crowd and injecting each jam with a gospel backbone. As a self-proclaimed “soul stew,” the band was capable of many shades and styles all without sacrificing the goal to entertain and keep the performance as authentic as it could be. Starting slow and showcasing the solid originals found on the band’s debut, Revelator, Tedeschi’s smoky voice was the perfect accompaniment to the sun setting over the amphitheater. The roadhouse stomp of “Don’t Let Me Slide” and the roots funk of “Learn How to Love” were anchored by a patented and tasteful Trucks solo (though Tedeschi was no slouch when it came to hippie flare). Those slower numbers led up to the band absolutely catching fire with a series of covers ranging from the Beatles to Sly and the Family Stone that could have lasted all night. Though through it all each respective member was given his own moment to shine (the modus operandi of most jam bands, I’m told) the show was truly Trucks’ to bask within. In addition to his inheritance of Duane Allman’s legendary slide heroics, Trucks dipped into jazz fusion, bohemian noodling and bluegrass—all without exhausting the attentive crowd. Still it was his excursion into the solo from “Jessica,” during the band’s rendition of Steve Wonder’s “Uptight,” that got the most applause. Even if most of the audience was there to crown Trucks a guitar deity, there was something for everyone within the two-hour set; anyone without goosebumps at least once mustn’t have a heart. And that, on this balmy July night, was the essence of live summer music in Ohio.