When the 11-piece Tedeschi Trucks Band caravan rolled into Houston, it was with the fresh knowledge that Etta James - a musical hero of singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi - has passed away earlier in the day. So it wasn't surprising that the group pulled out a tribute.
"We've got to do something for Etta!" Tedeschi said early in the set, as she put on her eyeglasses and a stand appeared with assumedly the sheet music for James' classic "I'd Rather Go Blind."
But halfway through the already heavy song emotions got the best of her, and Tedeschi shook her head with tears welling up in her eyes as if signaling the band to stop the number. But with an appreciative reaction from the audience - and the kind eyes support of husband/guitarist Derek Trucks - she finished the tune with gusto befitting the queen of Chess Records. It was a moment of unscripted and raw emotion from a professional and literal family whose strength is in their collective vision for the power of music.
The setlist included many of the tracks from the group's debut CD, Revelator, including hi-energy opener "Don't Let Me Slide," an anthemic "Bound for Glory," and the lush, lovely "Midnight in Harlem." The last featured Trucks' tasteful and seamless slide guitar in abundance.
And, as fans have come to expect, not a note was wasted. Even when soloing with a fiery passion, there's never a sense that Trucks is trying to show off his skills. That sort of Zen calmness - not to be confused with lethargy - wafts over the rest of the band as well. That's not surprising, given Trucks' interest in Eastern philosophies and spirituality, themes throughout his career. By contrast, Tedeschi's more raw playing and open-throated wailing gave the show a tougher blues edge when needed for a fairly seamless pairing.
Speaking of pairings, there were plenty of interesting moments in watching the interplay between Trucks and Tedeschi: a shared smile, a private look, a guitar call-and-answer. And though for most of the set Trucks remained his usual facially inscrutable, wordless self, there were abundant glimmers of the obvious and deep affection between the pair
Not enough can be said of the other nine players in the group - including a three-piece horn section (Kebbi Williams, Maurice Brown, Saunders Sermons), two backup singers (Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers), two drummers (Tyler Greenwell, J.J. Johnson), and brothers Oteil (bass) and Kofi (keyboards, flute) Burbridge. Each member got a chance to shine, and Sermons even got to sing a bit. The TTB is a group in the truest sense of the word.
The band also stretched out on a good number of interesting covers. A funked-up take on Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" took a large leap from the original arrangement; The Beatles "I've Got a Feeling" built to a roaring crescendo, and Stevie Wonder's "Uptight" had the aisles dancing.
Tedeschi paid tribute to another favorite singer with a raw workout of Janis Joplin's "Try." By the time the show-closing Sly Stone medley came around - horn section a blarin' - there was little doubt that the TTB had put their own stamp on the familiar tunes.
In her interview with Rocks Off last week, Tedeschi noted that the band's next release would be a live effort already recorded on this inaugural tour.
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Personal bias: Unabashed fan of both acts solo and even more together. Admitted previous crush on Tedeschi.
The crowd: Mostly middle-aged blues and classic rock fans with a seeming abundance of bearded men, including a bald Gandalf the Grey.
Overheard in the crowd: "It's like the second coming of Duane Allman!"
Random Notebook Dump: Nice color-changing, sunflower-themed, batik tapestry hanging from the ceiling set a mood.