It’s a sell-out at La Zona Rosa, with fingers in the air outside as fans try to find an elusive extra ticket for some Saturday night blues with one of the planet’s finest modern purveyors of the art form. The club only holds about 1,200 though, and it soon becomes evident that Susan Tedeschi is ready to step up to a larger venue on her next visit to Austin.
It’s not like she’s a newcomer in these parts, having won increasing acclaim throughout the past decade as well as recording a live album in Austin in 2003. Tedeschi is riding a powerful career wave now, coming off two straight sizzling summer tours with husband Derek Trucks in their Soul Stew Revival configuration and then issuing her stellar new Back to the River LP last fall. Out with her own band in support of the album, there’s a packed house waiting for Tedeschi to testify.
The band opens with the new album’s title track, an up-tempo rocker that gets a fire started right away. Tedeschi throws down some smoldering wah-wah licks to fan the flame, as the band falls right in line with their leading lady. The new album is featured heavily early on, but the diverse tunes that cross rock, blues, soul, and funk boundaries are all winners. Tedeschi could probably make “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” sound soulful, so she has no problem holding the enraptured crowd’s attention with newer material.
“Love Will” offers a major key homage to good love, with big sax and organ solos from Ron Holloway and Matt Slocum. “700 Houses” brings things down a notch, but in such a soulful way, with a solemn ode to overcoming the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Tedeschi nails a deeply bluesy guitar solo and wins another round of cheers, which keep coming all night.
A smoking take on Allen Toussaint’s “There’s A Break in the Road” brings the energy to an early peak. Tedeschi’s vocals take on extra power on top of the heavy funk groove, turning the heat up big time. She cranks it up even further by ripping another blistering solo filled with blues power. Bassist Ted Pecchio and drummer Tyler Greenwell hold down the rhythm section with powerful force, while guitarist Dave Yoke artfully blends his lines with Tedeschi’s. This is no mere backing band, but rather a tightly cohesive unit.
Another bluesy jam features Holloway again, with his tight sax lines propelling the band to another level as the tune picks up and starts to sound kind of like the jazzy outro from the Rolling Stones’ classic “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”. The band really gels on “Butterfly”, with the electric piano laying down a thick funk groove and Tedeschi ripping it up on both guitar and vocals.
The anthemic “People” is yet another winner from the new album, with Tedeschi noting that the song is about getting out and voting. The triumphant tune has an uplifting vibe that in retrospect seems to have foreshadowed Barack Obama’s presidential victory. The tune would seem to have major hit single potential if only the label were to get behind it.
The best blues artists always pay homage to the past and Tedeschi delivers with her staple cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, making the song sound like she wrote it as her voice oozes with bluesy lament for a relationship gone south. “Can’t Sleep at Night” riffs on a similar theme with Tedeschi singing “Where did I mess up, where did I go wrong”. “In the Garden”, introduced as a tune written with Double Trouble’s Tommy Shannon, brings another slow melodic blues that keeps the crowd entranced.
Tedeschi lets her hair down after the song and receives yet another cheer. “Talking About”, the new album’s opener, brings the energy back up with another blast of high-energy bluesy rock with Tedeschi belting out the vocals for all she’s worth.
The encore segment begins with “It Hurt So Bad”, a traditional blues number with Tedeschi again lamenting a love gone by the wayside. Her powerful range brings still more applause as does another deep organ solo. John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” comes next, with Tedeschi emitting some of her most tenderly soulful vocals of the evening.
Demonstrating how much she truly appreciates her rabid fan base, Tedeschi stands at the edge of the stage as the lights come up, signing autographs until every single last fan who wants one gets one, a period of at least 15 minutes. She says there won’t be another Soul Stew Revival tour this summer since she and Trucks are both touring behind new albums, but that a Soul Stew album is on tap in the fall or winter, news that bodes most auspiciously for blues rock fans.