Good rock and roll shows can inspire, but the truly special outings occur when the band and its audience are on the same wavelength, pushing one another to higher ground. At Thursday night’s Tedeschi Trucks Band concert in downtown Pensacola, the Saenger Theater might as well have been hovering mid-air.
The show opened with a trio of up-tempo funk and blues-based numbers, “Break in the Road”, “Do I Look Worried?”, and “Made Up Mind” that showcased the rolling power of the eleven-piece band and Susan Tedeschi’s signature growl. It was a thunderous proclamation that, yes, they were here to rattle some brains and bodies.
Then came what remains the band’s magnum opus, “Midnight in Harlem”. Though written by backup singer Mike Mattison and passionately sung by Tedeschi, this tune is an absolute monster for Derek Trucks’ guitar playing. The delicate intro featured him alone on guitar, sliding his way through blues and trance-inducing Indian scales. You could hear collective gasps from the crowd as the song weaved its tale of heartbreak and redemption. An exploratory solo by saxophone player Kebbi Williams eventually led to interplay between him and Trucks, and finally, a Trucks solo that rocketed to the heavens. Stunned applause and a partial standing ovation immediately followed.
Tedeschi proved she’s more than capable on guitar with a fiery blues solo on The Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling”, while Mattison took lead vocals on a Derek Trucks Band throwback, “Get What You Deserve”. “Idle Wind” closed this portion of the set and prevalently featured keys player Kofi Burbridge on flute. While the album cut of this track stays subdued, this version scorched, complete with more interstellar sax work by Williams, a drum showcase for hometown boy Tyler Greenwell and his partner-in-percussion, JJ Johnson, and teases from Trucks of the Allman Brothers classic, “Blue Sky”. They were hinting at things to come.
A well-timed breather ensued, with Tedeschi front and center for a pair of acoustic numbers. The gospel traditional “Keep Your Lights Trimmed and Burning” featured Tedeschi, Trucks, and bassist Tim Lefebvre. Trucks left the stage for Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. Acoustic breaks are typically beer run material for me, but this pair of tunes kept me in a daze.
Then came blast off.
The Allman Brothers Band’s “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” is a monument to another time, an era of freedom, exploration, and of musical units having the gall to “go there”. Trucks playing of that iconic guitar line was matched in unison by the full horn section. Trumpet player Maurice “Mobetta” Brown, easily the most demonstrative member of the band, stepped in the spotlight for a standout jazz solo. Burbridge then took the reigns on keys for an extensive jam that went from jazz to funk and laid the foundation for Trucks to send us back into orbit.
“Bound for Glory”, “I Pity the Fool” and “The Storm” closed the set, but all lacked the steamrolling firepower of the previous the number.
After a ruckus demand for a return to the stage, the band opened its encore with David Bowie’s “Oh! You Pretty Things”, and then to the final moment of liftoff of the night – a stunning rendition of Derek and the Dominos’ “Keep On Growing”. The original with Eric Clapton battling Duane Allman is an all-time great, and this version rivaled it. For all the talk of the separation of the Allman Brothers Band and Trucks’ desire to distance himself from that scene, he remains committed to its musical spirit. With this army of talent beside him, he’ll continue to push both originals and classics through the stratosphere.
Author’s note: Thanks to Jill Straw and Michael Flatau for setlist assistance and “Lowell George Wannabe” for videos.
Photos: Kaylen Sarra