From the sold-out, revved-up crowd, to a cameo appearance by Jimmie Vaughan, to a finale that wove in the Carter Family’s classic “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” Saturday night at ACL Live with the Tedeschi Trucks Band had some amusing similarities to Friday’s big “Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas” hurricane relief benefit at the Erwin Center.
Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks and their bandmates drew that connection even tighter with an early-September announcement: “The band has pledged to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. A portion of proceeds from each of its upcoming Texas performances will be donated to help victims of the storm.”
“The Storm” also happened to be the name of the song, from their 2013 album “Made Up Mind,” that marked the close of a nearly two-hour main set. On this night, they used it as a bridge into the Allman Brothers classic “Whipping Post,” paying tribute to the late Gregg Allman and acknowledging Trucks’ formative years with that group.
When Trucks subsequently formed his own band, and then teamed up with Tedeschi for the first Tedeschi Trucks Band album in 2011, it marked the arrival of a new major force in American music. The group’s December 2015 taping of “Austin City Limits” gave the long-running television show one of its best episodes in years.
READ MORE: Tedeschi Trucks Band closes ACL’s 41st season with a bang
That taping happened just before the January 2016 release of “Let Me Get By,” the band’s third studio album. Four of the 15 songs they played on Saturday came from that record, supplemented by three from previous albums, two as-yet-unrecorded new numbers, and a handful of choice covers from the likes of Allen Toussaint and Bobby Blue Bland.
A dozen strong, the Tedeschi Trucks Band backs up its namesake powerhouse vocal and guitar duo with unassailable musicianship across the board. Backup singer and songwriting contributor Mike Mattison, who often moves to the front for lead vocal turns, stands out, but his companions on the back riser, Alecia Chakour and Mark Rivers, were similarly compelling when the spotlight turned their way.
A couple of Austinites star in the horn and rhythm sections. Trumpeter Ephraim Owens joins saxophonist Kebbi Williams and trombone player Elizabeth Lea, while J.J. Johnson teams with Tyler Greenwell for a double-drummer attack that ranges from subtle to ferocious. Bassist Tim Lefebvre and keyboardist Carey Frank (subbing for Kofi Burbridge, who’s recovering from heart surgery) round out the lineup.
As a unit, these musicians are masters of dynamics, repeatedly building and unleashing bursts of energy. The effect of that technique wears off a bit after an hour or so, simply because it becomes expected. Breaks such as Tedeschi’s trio performance of the George Jones/Lawton Williams classic “Color of the Blues,” which she sang with John Prine on an album he released last year, help to broaden the band’s palette.
A quieter midset moment with the #TedeschiTrucksBand at @acllivepic.twitter.com/7NMgaEwrzI
— Peter Blackstock (@Blackstock360) September 24, 2017
Tedeschi is one of the best singers in contemporary music, reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt ( who was part of Friday’s Erwin Center show) in her ability to connect emotionally with tones ranging from a whisper to a scream. But if you’re a fan of the Tedeschi Trucks band, it really comes down to digging the instrumental talent first and foremost. It’s the grooves these folks lay down, stretched out enough to make a 15-song set and encore run well past two hours, that have raised them to godhead level on the jam-band circuit — even as their songcraft has increasingly given them inroads toward a much wider audience.
They’ve clearly outgrown playing a single night at ACL Live, which sold out this show months in advance. Expect multiple nights there in the future, perhaps even a move up to the Erwin Center (they played the Austin360 Amphitheater in 2015, before their “Austin City Limits” taping). They’d clearly be a great addition to ACL Fest as well, though if they haven’t played the festival by now, it may simply indicate the band’s preference to connect with fans in a full-concert environment. Wherever they land the next time through town, expect the crowd to be ever larger.
Opening act the Hard Working Americans joined the headliners for a night-closing rendition of Bobby Blue Bland’s Turn on Your Love Light” (a frequent Grateful Dead live highlight). The two bands share familial bonds, as drummer Duane Trucks is the brother of TTB co-leader Derek Trucks. Musically, though, Hard Working Americans is far less interesting. Though ace country-rock songwriter Todd Snider fronts the group, the material in their 40-minute set was largely bland and unmemorable.
1. Don’t Know What It Means
3. Laugh About It
4. All the World (new)
5. Get Out My Life, Woman
6. Midnight in Harlem
7. I Want More
8. Color of the Blues
9. Right on Time
10. Shame (new)
11. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free
12. I Pity the Fool
13. The Storm/Whipping Post
14. Will the Circle Be Unbroken/Bound for Glory
15. Turn on Your Love Light