January 23, 2023

Review: Even after a two-and-a-half-hour set, Tedeschi Trucks Band leaves Clearwater fans begging for more

Tedeschi Trucks Band plays Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on Jan. 21, 2023.
Photo by Tracy May c/o Ruth Eckerd Hall
Tedeschi Trucks Band plays Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on Jan. 21, 2023.
The rock power couple of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, married since 2001, led a powerful, ultra-tight 12-piece band through two sets that lasted roughly two-and-a-half hours on Saturday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

The sold-out crowd ate it up, showering the ensemble with frequent standing ovations. I had high hopes for my first real concert (and first review) since before the pandemic. Those hopes were largely, if not fully, realized. I reached a point in the second set where I became far less enthusiastic about yet another extended guitar solo. And the half-hour-plus intermission didn’t help matters.

Tedeschi Trucks Band (TTB) finds the tricky middle between jam band and well-drilled rock/blues/R&B unit. The scripted arrangements allow ample room for solos. And more solos. Mostly guitar solos, but also organ and tenor saxophone solos.

Trucks, who ranks among the best living guitarists, has a vast range of expressions, tones and feels, and an innate talent for building crescendos. He is the band’s calling card, its ace. For this show, he alternated about evenly between slide and conventional guitar. Along with the fiery forays that called to mind Duane Allman, Trucks played slow, delicately-fingered lines, graceful slide slurs, jazzy chords, and more—all while rarely being redundant. His guitar was, appropriately, pushed well up into the mix.

Editor's note: Tedeschi Trucks Band plays Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall again on Wednesday, Jan. 25. Tedeschi, a blue-eyed soul singer who draws inevitable comparisons to Bonnie Raitt, provides the ideal foil: She infused heart into a ballads like the show-opening “Here My Dear” (not to be confused with embittered Marvin Gaye breakup song) and “Midnight in Harlem” (probably the band’s most recognizable tune). Less effectively, she reached for gospel-style heights on uptempo numbers. Tedeschi also delivered a few solid solos on electric guitar. After one particularly long one in the second set, the crowd hurled cheers at her. Everyone knows she’s no Derek Trucks, but give her credit for grabbing the six-string limelight in the shadow of a giant standing right next to her. (It probably helps that he’s her old man.)

Nine of the concert’s 18 numbers came from TTB’s sprawling quadruple album I Am the Moon, which was released in phases last year. One selection from that album, “Pasaquan,” provided the concert’s high point. Unsurprisingly, it was an extended instrumental. Trucks switched from his solid-body Gibson SG to what appeared to be a hollow-body electric (for you geeks, it looked from my vantage point like a Gibson ES-335), beginning with some contemplative licks over simmering free rhythm. From there, he eased into a simple riff as the band (pared down to five) laid down a quick, roiling groove.

If you’re thinking Allman Brothers, you are spot on. But if you’re wondering about style apery, know that Trucks—the nephew of charter ABB drummer Butch Trucks—was a member of that group for 15 years. (But you knew that already). The guitarist proceeded to blister the Eckerd Hall walls and probably had many of the six-string fiends in the audience reaching for smelling salts.

But Trucks’s solo wasn’t even the song’s highlight. That came courtesy of drummers Tyler Greenwell and Isaac Eady, seated at kits next to each other center-stage. Drum solos are, by and large, gratuitous and often insufferable. But this wasn’t a drum solo; it was a drum duet.

As the other players dropped out, and Trucks had a seat on a riser and watched, Greenwell and Eady maintained the song’s sprinting pulse. Other than the subtlest of accents, neither one strayed from that feel for several minutes, creating tension and teasing the crowd. Then the duo played off each other, trading fills in call-and-response fashion. While the two deftly raised the temperature and peaked, they never resorted to look-at-me histrionics. Their performance should be required homework for any band contemplating a drum feature.

Tedeschi seemed empowered—and perhaps challenged—by the triumphant jam. She returned and delivered emphatic vocals on the slow blues “Just Won’t Burn” (from her pre-TTB days) and, especially, the soaring “Anyhow.”

A rousing reimagination of Dr. John’s “I Walk on Gilded Splinters,” followed. Staying in covers mode, TTB then played a rendition of Derek and the Dominos’ “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad,” which was disappointingly tepid, especially when compared to the manic rage of the original.

By this point, I’d about had my fill. But I can say this without equivocation: The crowd had not.

Ad Hoc Notes and Observations:
  • I hadn’t been to a proper concert in nearly three years, so maybe I’ve missed something, but TTB did not use spotlights. All the lighting came from onstage, using mostly softer hues. At times, it had the effect of the band—which included three horn players and three backup singers—playing in the shadows.
  • We pulled into a parking spot a few minutes before the scheduled 8 p.m. start time. As a seasoned concert vet, I expected to easily be able to grab my tickets at will-call and get to my seat before the band hit.

    What I didn’t expect was a series of long lines to get inside the building. Security people were checking bags and wanding people as we trudged, Kafkaesque, towards the entrance. While TTB concluded its opening song, my wife and I were doing the slow, “excuse-me” shuffle toward our center-row seats.

    Hey, I get safety-first, but the Ruth Eckerd security protocols made entering a concert feel like a prison visit. Perhaps this clogged ingress was an aberration, but if not, the venue needs to remedy the situation—hire more people, open more doors, maybe even loosen the reins a bit.
  • During intermission, a youngish fellow a few rows in front of me stood facing the back. He had a mustache, a rather feeble one, and wore a floral-print shirt, buttoned just above his navel, proudly showing a nest of dark chest hair. It must be true that a "Magnum P.I." reboot is coming.
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Review: Even after a two-and-a-half-hour set, Tedeschi Trucks Band leaves Clearwater fans begging for more
Photo by Tracy May c/o Ruth Eckerd Hall
Review: Even after a two-and-a-half-hour set, Tedeschi Trucks Band leaves Clearwater fans begging for more
Photo by Tracy May c/o Ruth Eckerd Hall
Review: Even after a two-and-a-half-hour set, Tedeschi Trucks Band leaves Clearwater fans begging for more
Photo by Tracy May c/o Ruth Eckerd Hall
Review: Even after a two-and-a-half-hour set, Tedeschi Trucks Band leaves Clearwater fans begging for more
Photo by Tracy May c/o Ruth Eckerd Hall

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