The Tedeschi Trucks Band can apparently play anything. And they do. Which has maybe become a problem when it comes to live shows.
I saw them for the second time on Sunday night at Seattle's beautiful Paramount theater. And I thought they were WAY better when they played a year ago at Seattle's McCaw Hall as part of their LET ME GET BY tour.
Don't get me wrong, here. They sounded great. They played great. Some of the songs -- especially the half-dozen I didn't recognize, which I assume were tryouts of new material -- came across as pretty strong.
But with 12 people on stage, I assume there must be a lot of egos to keep happy in this band. And there was a lot of showing off.
But here's the thing: There was MORE showing off a year ago. But the songs were stronger.
In the review I posted last September, though I thought that McCaw Hall concert was one of the best I'd ever seen, I was already uneasy with some parts of TTB's show. I don't think every song should be an excuse for Derek Trucks to show how loud and high and long he can play that guitar. And he CAN play, no question.
But that was still happening on Sunday night. In almost every song, at some point everybody backed off and opened up space to let Derek take over. Three or four times is OK. But after that it's too much. One of his best solos was on a long, angry piece called either "It Makes You Wonder" or "Shame." In fact, some of TTB's best moments were when they were clearly angry, as on one of their earlier songs, "Get What You Deserve."
Other solos made attendees wonder if TTB were trying to become some sort of blues-pop-jazz-rock-fusion band. I enjoyed some of this -- a drum duel just before intermission finally caught hold of a nice pounding groove (there was actually a lot of pounding in this show), and keyboardist Kofi Burbidge got some wild squawking, bubbling sounds out of the organ later in the show. I liked this -- I thought it was funny.
Their sax player also did a jittery, twitchy, Ornette Coleman-like meltdown early in the show that I thought was hilarious ... but he'd done the same bit a year ago. It's OK to do one clearly overdone meltdown -- that's funny. But one in every song is too much.
There were other spots that I thought were just dead -- where it seemed something was supposed to happen but didn't. This might have been technical -- during intermission, a tech worked on a couple of amps, and the second half of the show had fewer gaps. But some spots seemed to leave members of the band lost or waiting for cues. If things had been right on cue, it would never have occurred to me that there were dead spots.
And then there's the song choices. I still have a fairly long list of stuff I'd like to hear TTB do live -- they did nothing I'd hoped for. They did two songs from LET ME GET BY -- but not the best one, "Anyhow," which they opened powerfully with a year ago. They did B.B. King's "How Blue Can You Get?" and Ray Charles's "Let's Go Get Stoned," both of which came across with passion and power. Susan Tedeschi did a solo spot on Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," but she messed up the first line of the lyric ... and I'm sorry, but her version doesn't beat Peter, Paul and Mary's.
But Susan has a great voice that was strong on the rockers and cut through the big sound. And there's a couple of TTB's backing singers who can keep up with her. Former lead singer Mike Mattison took a few leads and still has a powerful voice. They should use him more often for contrast. He was especially good duetting with Susan on "Get What You Deserve."
TTB didn't talk much. Susan lightened up a bit toward the end and talked more, introduced the band, etc. She and Derek had hardly any interaction on stage.
At least they gave value for the money. The show ran almost three hours (not counting the half-hour intermission), and TTB came back on stage for an encore while we were in the lobby buttoning up coats for the 35-degree night outside. But we were done by then.
I was still disappointed. Maybe they were tired. They've been on the road a LOT the last year or so. The songs I thought were new sounded VERY good, and I'll still look for their next album.
Maybe I wish they would have settled down a bit -- actually been a blues band rather than a blues-pop-jazz-rock-fusion orchestra. Just because you CAN play everything doesn't mean you HAVE TO play everything. Stick with what you do best.