Live at Manchester Apollo 9th November 2022
The Tedeschi Trucks Band are a wonder. Filling Manchester’s Apollo despite a low profile in the UK and playing two and a half hours without any sort of restlessness in the crowd. They manage to keep focus on two amazing guitar players, while using and highlighting all the other musicians. There’s twelve on stage and by the end of the evening everyone has had a solo spot, even the trombone.
Let’s be clear, the Tedeschi Trucks Band are not a Jam Band, even if they tick all the boxes for fans of Jerry Garcia, the Allman Brothers, etc. They don’t go off on super-extended improvisations but what they do is to give a song the time it needs and feel free to reinterpret pieces. It’s a huge band: Up front we have the husband and wife team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. Susan has a powerful blues voice and excellent blues guitar style, while Derek doesn’t sing but he wrings gold from his guitar. Formerly with his own band, Derek has worked with the Allman Brothers and elsewhere. His virtuosity was great there but when melded with his wife’s becomes an ideal combination. They are joined by the sound of a Hammond B3, sax, trumpet, trombone, two drummers, bass, acoustic guitar, tambourine and backing chorus. The sound is full and driving. The twin guitars switch leads and sometimes duet, with both staring at the other’s instrument and responding but most often it is Derek’s guitar you hear squalling, digging, stretching and wrangling with the tune.
Out of twenty-one songs, stats fans, we get eight from the recent multi-album set and five covers – this is a band very much in the moment and proud of their recent work. They also know the depth of the American tradition and curate their covers with love – Bessie Smith, Blind Joe Reynolds, The Box Tops, Santana, The Wood Brothers – their influences are wide but grounded in tradition.
Mostly it is Susan on vocals but Mike Mattison steps up a couple of times with his sweet but gruff soul voice and the Gabe Dixon gets to sing from behind the keyboard before Susan’s impassioned ‘I Am The Moon’. The Box Tops cover, ‘My Baby Wrote Me A Letter’, is an absolute stomper. Susan puts the guitar down and her voice amps up and gets louder as she bends and contorts to push those blues out alongside the punchy call and response backing. We get swamp rock, soul, blues, ballads, quite a range. On ‘Yes We Will’, a passionate environmental song, she pulls out a blues solo, bending back to squeeze out those notes and we hear the comparison of her more melodic style with Derek’s southern rock squall. Derek is prone to launching into an epic solo almost out of nowhere and occasionally gets a knowing smile from the band but it is always appreciated in the crowd, who have a warm and laid-back attention throughout.
They know their audience and dedicate the Set Two opener to empty nesters. Sadly it is the only lack-lustre song in the set but it is rapidly picked up with Mattison delivering some Bessie Smith – ‘Gin House Boogie’ – with a ripping Susan solo and a slower ‘Smoke Rings’ from Tedeschi. ‘Gravity’, from the third ‘I Am The Moon’ album is a set highlight and then we are on the road to exit with a sax solo, drum duet, trombone solo, etc. The big treat is an extended guitar duet – watching Derek listen and respond to Susan’s lines is delightful and thrilling.
The evening has flown by and the wonder at the heart and passion of this band remains, alongside the admiration for the guitar licks on show. It has been the combination of technique and love of song that has made the evening special. If you missed this rare visit to the North of England, the band have a few live albums and are very much worth your time.