Tag Archives: live music

Featured Artist: Tedeschi-Trucks Band

Last night my wife and I witnessed a marvel of postmodern blues-making at North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center. Since shortly before the release of their June 2011 release of RevelatorSusan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks have led the Tedeschi Trucks Band. They’ve been busy since then, building on a solid foundation to remain the biggest, baddest blues outfit I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing live. We’ve been closely watching Tedeschi’s career since her 2002 record, Wait For Me. Trucks we’ve only discovered more recently, but last night the band made a believer out of this listener.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band understands two things thoroughly: how well the distinction between bandleader and singer can work, and how to value every single contributor. While he’s soloing or listening to Tedeschi, Trucks calmly participates in various ongoing communications within the band. Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson stay locked into a singular groove–a formidable task for any band with two drummers–while they also manage to keep out of each other’s way and support the band with tasty exchanges. Brand new bassist Tim Lefebvre holds down the rhythmic and harmonic foundations with impeccably restrained taste. Kofi Burbridge wields his multi-keyboard setup masterfully, laying down basic harmonies on keys here, amping up the texture with a Hammond B3/Leslie combo there. Kebbi Williams, Maurice Brown, and Saunders Sermans each bring distinctive, entertaining personalities to the horn line. Behind them, a duo of highly versatile singers Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers alternate between providing stylized harmonic flavor and coming out front for their own features. Just don’t call them backup singers. Mattison began paying his dues well before singing lead on another Trucks project, and Rivers goes well beyond holding his own during shining moments in this band.

Meanwhile, capable leadership from Trucks keeps everything cued up and tight for Tedeschi, who has ample space to focus on bending phrases and wailing her way through blues idioms that make originals sound like classics. It is truly rare to hear a singer with rhythm as solid and consistent as hers. Every ornament, every nuance, every single rasp seems purposeful, but she delivers it all with a nonchalant humility, signaling to the audience that mastery is just part of her personal style.

To say that husband and wife both handle their instruments well as soloists would be a dramatic understatement. Tedeschi’s straightforward blues style has always served her well, and it’s a perfect compliment to the harder edge of her husband’s slide solo sound. Together with their collaborators they can bring the band from Metheny-esque soft subtlety to face-melting fever pitch, often within the same twelve-bar solo chorus.

This is unapologetic Blues with a capital B. Yes, they can funk it up with some tight horn lines, a good deal of interplay between their two drummers, and some good clean fun from a self-choreographed horn line. Yes, Derek Trucks can get his rockstar on with a bit of distortion, harmonics, and the help of some professional lighting that pales in comparison to his guitar lightning. But this music articulates a genealogy of American rock beginning with the Blues and only then moving through Jazz, Rock, and Funk in that order. The diverse backgrounds and personalities of the band come through this sound mightily. This music understands that all truly American art needs that variety in order to participate in moving sonic representations of who we are as a nation.

Tedeschi Trucks Band offered an evening of transcendent Americana last night. Soon they’ll take the show to Japan, India, and several European nations. They will make excellent emissaries for the venerable tradition of American Blues.

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Dylan Rolls Through Tallahassee

So this afternoon my wife calls me at work. At first I’m worried, because she rarely calls me at work. She gets right to the point:

“Do you want to go see Bob Dylan tonight?”

Now, we have other plans–family plans that we have every Monday night–but the way she asks, I know there’s only one answer, and it’s the one we both want:

“YEAH!”

We walk into the Civic Center to hear Dylan’s aging voice scratching out one of his more recent tunes, but the night turns out to be a mix from his whole songbook. It doesn’t seem to matter much what he’s singing: his delivery tells listeners he’s as sure of who he is and what he wants now as when he set out to make Woody Guthrie his guru.

When he’s not behind the keyboard, Dylan creeps up to the mic like some old man around a campfire getting ready to frighten the bejesus out of some unsuspecting grandchildren. His voice ghastly and only rarely with any pitch at all, he spins his tales as a master storyteller. He smiles with the awareness that his audiences know all the tunes, but his poetry does not suffer a lack of urgency for it.  In his encore performance of “Like a Rolling Stone,” as Dylan asks his old question again–“How does it feel?”–we wonder if we should have kept the part of those frightened grandchildren the whole time. The tune has as much haunting resonance now as it always has.

It comes as no surprise that a man who’s been on the road as long as Bob Dylan has this kind of creative command over both audience and band. A tiny nod cues enormous tempo changes, his subtle squint a complete change in lyrical mood. At seventy, the textual and visual poetics of his performance still satisfy with all kinds of relevance for a generation still in the midst of discovering him.

On top of all that, my spouse still has the ability to surprise me with a totally unexpected gift: a soulful dinner with friends, a fantastic show, and all on a Monday night! What a gem.

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Monáe Puts On a Show in Style

FSU began a new term today, so this past weekend was full of parties. The one to be at Saturday night was Janelle Monáe’s set for Ogelsby Union’s “Last Call Before Fall.” Opening act The Blow didn’t need the clever name to deliver on its promise, but the Monáe show beginning a half hour later was the most put together four piece outfit Tallahassee has seen for a long time.

It takes only a brief look at Monáe & Leftfoot’s video with Big Boi to know that she’s about solid singing and precision dancing (James Brown comes to mind). Her live show is no different. From the white-gloved backup dancers with red tambourines to old-school R&B references all the way back to church with a quote from “All Creatures of Our God and King,” this is an artist who knows her audience and exactly what she wants to say to them.

She’s hired all the right musicians to help her say it, too. Her drummer flashed HSBCU-style stick tricks between gospel and marching tinged time keeping techniques. Her virtuoso guitarist helped her showcase impressive vocal clarity and range with their sophisticated harmonic imagining of Charlie Chaplin’s classic “Smile.” Her man on keys sported dork chic style while holding down both his own part and that of a bass player. All kept up with the tightly choreographed demands of a powerful one hour set.

I first heard about this artist in June, when she got a rave review over at BlackGrooves. I can think of no better artist to kick off FSU’s fall term with our not quite new university president than the fresh but clearly not green Janelle Monáe in her fashionably overstated tuxedo. Here’s wishing them both a good year.

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