At its best, music has a deeply spiritual quality, an ability to create some connection on a higher level between performer and audience that even someone with a bust of Madalyn Murray O'Hair on their mantle can get on board with. Thursday night at House of Blues, Derek Trucks was able to coax more transcendence and purity out of one run on his slide guitar that a phalanx of pulpit pontificators could do with a month of Sundays. According to audience member James Perkins, who stood by Aftermath for part of the show, the quiet leader with the long blonde ponytail is also cosmic. "His music is so high-end and brilliant, it's almost from a different planet," he noted. "Some of it flies over my head, but it just soars. And it's got balls."
Trucks and his ensemble - Mike Mattison (vocals), Todd Smallie (bass), Yonrico Scott (drums), Kofi Burbridge (keyboards/flute), and the mysterious Count M'Butu (percussion) enthralled for close to two hours on a free-form musical journey sailing through the seas of blues, jazz, rock and world music. It wasn't for no reason that the show opened with the churchified "Joyful Noise." The set list drew heavily from the band's newest (and most compact) release, Already Free, highlighted by a raucous cover of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes number "Down in the Flood," an organ-drenched "I Know," "Get What You Deserve" and a sterling version of the title track. The latter had Trucks seated on a chair, both legs pumping up and down like pistons while he peeled off fiery licks.
Through it all, Mattison - who bears an uncanny resemblance to a young George Foreman - sang with a gutbucket passion that belied his stationary situation (with a cast covering most of his right leg, he was relegated to sitting on a stool the entire night). The Southern Baptist Conference should use his turn on "Preachin' Blues" as a recruiting tool.
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If the DTB is not about one thing, it's flashy showmanship. Mattison mostly maintained in inscrutable expression. Trucks himself addressed the audience only once to introduce the band early on, preferring in concentrate wholly on intensely caressing the neck of his instrument without stepping forward (though he did crack a few smiles).
So it was up to drummer Scott to throw a few platitudes out about being happy to be in Houston. Perhaps Trucks was conserving his energy - his other gig on the road with the Allman Brothers Band starts on Monday.
Sadly missing was more of the Indian/Middle Eastern/African-tinged instrumental jazzy material off the Soul Serenade or Songlines records (or at least the amazing cover of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Volunteered Slavery"). But just hearing the mastery of Trucks' slide runs in any form, complemented by his seamlessly united players (especially Burbridge and Scott), was indeed cause for joy. Opening the show was Austin's Gary Clark, Jr. Band, whose talented singing/guitar slinging frontman offered up a deep mix of blues, rock and one surprising falsetto-layered doo-woppish '50s love song. At times sounding like Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Clark was a solid opener with a future of his own.