The Tedeschi Trucks Band’s only UK performance of 2015 is very much a concert of two halves. Taking the stage at 8pm sharp, they play for 60 minutes, announce “a short break” (30 minutes) and then return to play for another 80 minutes. Where the first set finds the band playing blues-jazz jams, the second set places a much greater emphasis on R&B standards.
Throughout, the 12-piece band (two guitarists, two drummers, three horns, three backing vocals, keyboards/ flute, bass) play with absolute precision, equally capable of being a jam band and a soul revue. Yet for all their versatility, technique and taste – no shrieking guitar heroics and extreme volume here, thank you – the performance proves ultimately underwhelming.
Trucks hides in the shadows but is very much the band’s musical heart
Underwhelming because both imagination and risk appear absent. Instead, this 24-legged monster plays it very safe. Attempts to emulate The Allman Brothers (dual drums and guitars, both feeding off each other) and Joe Cocker (lots of horns and gospel-flavoured covers of 60s soul and pop hits) without adding something uniquely their own means TTB fail to match their musical forefathers’ ragged glories. And over the two and a half hours, Susan Tedeschi demonstrates that she’s a vocalist of limited expression and range – so much so that on the occasional numbers where one of the backing vocalists gets called up to handle a song, audible sighs of audience relief can be heard.
Opening with Betty Harris’ There’s A Break In The Road, the first set’s strong jazz flavour finds Kebbi Williams duelling Coltrane-like saxophone solos with Derek Trucks’ Duane-esque guitar solos. After the unnecessary interval, TTB return and begin performing songs from Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen: Tedeschi mentions how they had recently joined with Leon Russell and the surviving Mad Dogs to recreate that epic 1970 event. And, yes, the encore is With A Little Help From My Friends. It’s performed with gusto, but again it’s lacking the raw power of Cocker and co.
Tedeschi fronts the band while Trucks hides in the shadows, yet he is very much their musical heart, his slide guitar playing often being exceptional. And perhaps the balance between virtuoso husband and brassy wife is what gives the band their wide appeal. But hearing their take on classic tunes by Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, The Box Tops, Leonard Cohen and others emphasises their limitations and makes this technically gifted band resemble a highbrow Blues Brothers-style revue.