When I heard Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, and their ever-living powerhouse of a band at the Warner Theatre in Washington D.C. last February, it was summer weather already, and Barack Obama was in residence just down the block. The weekend of February 23-25, 2017, was different in very many ways — except for one. The music was even better.
It was cold on Saturday the 25th. The cherry blossoms, tricked out by hot sunshine in the days before, took a rainstorm that midday and chill in the afternoon. We wandered along the Mall, a little dazed in the clean cool air, past the security barriers and huge cement flowerpots that can stop speeding cars. The National Gallery was full of familiar peace, with an astounding Della Robbia exhibition and the flowers of the center hall fountain.
When a concert begins with The Staple Singers’ “Freedom Highway,” you don’t have to ask if you’re in the right place and in the right company. People around us in the front rows were crying and singing along; Tedeschi looked out and saw us and sang — if it is possible — even louder and more richly. The set was full of American history, political and cultural, with acknowledgements aplenty of the boat we’re all in and the power of music to, as Tedeschi gracefully put it, “try to help people feel a little better.”
Tedeschi Trucks are, as Bernett Belgraier said on this site, an American band. Sure, they play to packed houses over the world, but their sense and sensibility are pure homegrown, from the mix of musics traveling under the name “Americana” to the democratic nature of the band itself. As Tedeschi began a beautiful cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” accompanied by Kofi Burbridge on keyboards, she said simply, “Kofi’s gonna help me out with this, because that’s how we do in this band.” On the best version of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” I’ve ever heard them do, Tedeschi stepped away from her front-and-center spot, and Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers, and a stupendous Alecia Chakour took over. At the end, with an audience transported and stunned, the famously silent Trucks said something to his wife, and Tedeschi smiled back at him. “Derek said, ‘I bet they heard that at the White House,'” she confided to us. She went on, mentioning a band member with family from Syria. “We’re all immigrants. I mean, I’m Italian, and Irish, and … .” She shrugged to include all the ancestors of the past, while the audience cheered. Sharing is the first step to connection, from a stage or on the streets or wherever a person is first in a society among other people — or beginning human society, at the very beginning. An audience of fans always made happy by the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s music was made better this time, too.
George Harrison would have been 74 on February 25th. The band did one of their standard covers, The Beatles’ “Within You Without You,” in the first set, but in the second did two Harrison tunes back to back. “Wah-Wah” was joyful, and “Something” was stone gorgeous. Every time Trucks played that one clear rising guitar line, you could feel it the length of your spine. “Happy birthday, George,” called Tedeschi at the end.
The Warner, like New York’s one and only Beacon, is a golden palace with a stage capable — though only barely — of containing this band. Two drum sets and a horn section from heaven, the guitars of both Tedeschi and Trucks, keyboards and flute, rhythm and vocals, and that voice of Tedeschi’s … that voice. Every time I hear her live, it has strengthened in force, control and range. She could sing any song from the heights to the alto depths, from soul to jazz to opera — truly, everything she sings is soul made sound.
Tedeschi Trucks Band are in Charleston, West Virginia, tonight with old friend Jorma Kaukonen. Get yourselves there if you’re close. Their stand at the Ryman in Nashville is sold out, and from there they go on to a European tour. But they’ll be back home, in Florida, for Memorial Day. Safe travels, Derek and Susan and company, and see you again come summertime.