Photo: Stuart Levine (Courtesy of artist)

Tedeschi Trucks Band Sings Blues for the Resistance in Return to Oakland

Blues-rock heroes Tedeschi Trucks Band make a triumphant return to the scene where they recorded a live album last year.

It’s been a rocking autumn at the Fox Theater in uptown Oakland with visits from the Silversun Pickups, Trey Anastasio Band, and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. But the season’s musical treasures keep on growing on the third weekend of November with the return of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. The blues-rock ensemble is coming back to town like conquering heroes returning to the scene of a glorious triumph, closing their fall 2017 tour here at the venue where they recorded their previous visit in 2016 for their double live album Live From the Fox Oakland, now Grammy-nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

Guitar maestro Derek Trucks has spoken of how it all came together on that second night at the Fox last year for a scintillating performance that captured this world-class band at the top of their game. Trucks and wife/singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi and their band have been leading the way for modern blues power for the past decade now, first touring together as Derek and Susan’s Soul Stew Revival in the summer of 2007 before officially uniting full-time as the Tedeschi Trucks Band in 2010.

The 2007 summer tour featured a barn-burning show at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium that established the template for what was to come, with the dynamic duo and their band mixing up a wide variety of musical stylings that had fans hooting and hollering throughout the night. The Tedeschi Trucks Band’s ability to seamlessly blend traditional blues, classic rock, funk, jazz, soul, and Americana is a testament to both their strong talent and wide-ranging influences; a combination few other blues artists can match.

The group is riding high on this tour, coming off their traditional residency at New York’s Beacon Theater in October that typically featured a number of special guests including Phish’s Trey Anastasio sitting in for a memorable 30-minute jam on the Allman Brothers Band’s “Mountain Song”. With last year’s visit to the Fox now memorialized for eternity, this year’s two-night stand would seem to promise comparable next level performances. Music fans, therefore, pack the Fox in anticipation, filling the aisles to get as close as possible with little in the way of the crowd control one might normally expect at a theater venue.

The Hard Working Americans throw down a hot opening set on night one with Derek Trucks’ younger brother Duane Trucks rocking the drum kit alongside his Widespread Panic rhythm section partner Dave Schools on bass. The band suffered a bit of a setback with the departure of lead guitarist Neal Casal this summer due to his busy schedule, although the ever-hard working Casal can still be credited with helping get the group off the ground over the past few years. Vocalist Todd Schneider has a certain mystical mojo that’s rare in modern rock, and he utilizes this spiritual essence when the band closes their set with a charged version of the Doors’ “Been Down So Long” that would make the Lizard King proud if he’s looking down.

It doesn’t take the Tedeschi Trucks Band long to light a fire. Similar to an early cover of Derek & the Dominos’ “Keep on Growing” last year, the band throws down their electrifying version of “Anyday” from the same album as the third song of the show to crank the energy level to maximum as they conjure the beloved jammy synergy of Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. Another highlight soon occurs with a new cover of Neil Young’s politically charged “Alabama”. Tedeschi introduces the tune by saying “Hopefully they’ll get it right this time”, apparently referencing the upcoming special senatorial election in which Democrat Doug Jones will take on accused sexual predator Roy Moore to fill the seat of America’s loathsome Attorney General and former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions.

The song’s bluesy groove seems tailor-made for the Tedeschi Trucks Band, with Tedeschi owning the vocal as if she wrote the song. The harmony backing vocals and a great organ solo from Kofi Burbridge elevate the tune as well with the band demonstrating mid-show form early on. The title track from 2016’s Let Me Get By remains a zeitgeist winner, with the band rocking out as Tedeschi sings an upbeat number about just wanting to make it on your own terms.

The band hits multiple peaks on a sensational trifecta that begins with their perennially cathartic jam vehicle “Midnight in Harlem”. The lights portray a moon and stars behind the band as they work through the majestic groove with dynamic results, featuring soul-lifting harmonies between Tedeschi and Mike Mattison and brilliant slide work from Trucks. That is followed by Tedeschi’s deeply soulful take on Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice”, which could bring a tear to the eye of anyone who might associate the song with a tough breakup. The band brilliantly follows the classic heartbreaker with the heartwarming “Part of Me”, a vibrantly rocking love song from 2013’s Made Up Mind that gets the theater rocking out along with Tedeschi’s infectious vocal.

The new “Shame” keeps things rocking as she digs into the blues well again, while the horns sync in with the guitar and bass to drive the heavy chorus. The energy continues to surge with the bluesy funk of “Leaving Trunk”, with Tedeschi ripping a fierce guitar solo of her own over the hot groove. The band’s impressive synergy keeps growing throughout the show, with Trucks putting on a slide guitar clinic on “Volunteered Slavery” and “How Blue Can You Get” before the band wraps the set with a fiery jam on Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice”.

The Hard Working Americans are welcomed back to the stage for a joyous rendition of Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, reprising the encore from last year’s second night and confirming that this show has been akin to upping the ante by bringing that second night’s increased energy level on night one. The Fox is buzzing again 24 hours later as fans return for the “Evening with” tour finale that will feature two sets from the Tedeschi Trucks Band with no opening act. Few songs are repeated as the band picks up where Friday night left off and keeps on rocking the blues in all forms and styles. “Don’t Miss Me” finds the band exploring the jazz side with saxman Kebbi Williams getting the spotlight on an extended solo, followed by the whole band gelling on the uplifting “Anyhow”.

The group strips down to a quartet with just Tedeschi backed by bass, drums, and keys for perennial crowd-pleaser “Angel from Montgomery”, including a segue into the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree” where the rest of the band returns with Trucks powering the jam with some sparkling slide work. This serves as a prelude to an explosive take on Delaney and Bonnie’s “Coming Home”, another classic rock gem the Tedeschi Trucks Band has owned in the 21st century and which makes a fitting choice here in the tour finale. Trucks leads a dynamic jam with a sweet breakdown section that demands the audience hush completely, the type of exquisite jam he says is impossible to play at venues any larger than theaters like this. He leads the build to an electrifying climax that seems like it might close the set, but then steers the band into their own “Idle Wind”. The tune receives a glorious ride featuring a sublimely soulful jam with multiple peaks and valleys as all the different instrumentalists get a chance to shine.

The second set is filled with musical magic from a band at the top of their game giving their all in the final set of the tour. The glimmering “Just as Strange” kicks it off with Tedeschi singing of freeing herself from the chains that bind while Trucks mirrors her melody on guitar. The all-too-rare deep cut “Don’t Drift Away” comes next, one of the highlights from last year’s run which receives even more of a prime-time showcase treatment here. Tedeschi’s pleading voice on this cathartic number is like honey on the biscuit of the soul, amplified by urgent backing harmonies that generate a downright mystical vibe as Trucks and bassist Tim Lefebvre power one of the band’s most dynamic grooves for a peak level jam. The deep cut treats keep coming with the band’s electrifying take on Ed and Lonnie Young’s “Chevrolet”, a charged number featuring Mattison on lead vocal and the entire unit firing like a lean, mean funky blues machine. The tight horn blasts are on point, drummers Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson are deep in the pocket, and Trucks delivers one of his hottest solos of the night with Tedeschi urging him on as the Fox gets down.

“All the World” cools things down a bit with a traditional blues before the band cranks it back up by revisiting “Shame” and “Alabama”, which electrifies the Fox once again as the zeitgeist selection for 2017 that it is. The band is so pleased with this performance of “Alabama” that they soon release a recording of it, with Trucks saying, “This Neil Young song is as timely now as when it was written”. Following with Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Felt to Be Free” is a winning strategic placement, with a jazzy jam intro featuring trumpeter Ephraim Owens before the band delivers another bluesy workout with Trucks making his guitar sing sweet notes of freedom. Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “I Pity the Fool” closes the set with Tedeschi belting it out as if her vocal power might be able to free the land from the foolish governing of con artists like Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions.

A spectacular two-night run like this demands a big encore, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band delivers the goods again by leading with a heartwarming cover of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” that has the Fox feeling fine as fans light another joint while Tedeschi gets to the point. They follow with the traditional “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, before capping the triple encore sequence with a fiery blast of their own blues-rock power on “Bound for Glory”. It’s only a shame that the band doesn’t make live recordings of all their shows available because these shows are filled with highlights that would most definitely reward repeated listening.

Blues power might not be able to change the world per se, but it can shed light on certain issues and help people work through some of the difficult emotions that come with making one’s way through this crazy mixed up world. In this sense, the Tedeschi Trucks Band continues a noble service as they carry a torch for using music to manifest a better world for everyone.

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