There are happenings of such epic proportions that they are etched in the collective psyches of humankind. Time is measured based on a remembrance of man’s first walk on the moon or the fall of the Berlin Wall. And twenty years from now, people will still be talking about the mythical guitar brilliance of Derek Trucks and opener Gary Clark, Jr. as they joined with the Tedeschi Trucks Band on “Palace of the King” to close their shared July 25 Red Rocks Amphitheatre show. In fact it’s a miracle that the Red Rocks’ stage didn’t collapse under the combined weight of the musicians’ fretted genius.
And while the fabled collaboration was the last outstanding tune of the singular concert, it certainly wasn’t the only one. With a recital that would make Robert Johnson proud, Trucks and talented wife Susan Tedeschi removed any doubts as to their place as the reigning king and queen of the blues.
Tedeschi, Trucks and their assemblage of gifted musicians – Kofi Burbridge (keyboards, flute), Tyler Greenwell (drums), J.J. Johnson (drums), Mike Mattison (vocals), Mark Rivers (vocals), Maurice Brown (trumpet), Kebbi Williams (Saxophone), Saunders Sermons (trombone) and Tim Lefebvre (bass) – treated the Red Rocks faithful to an extraordinary musical history lesson featuring among others, covers of Traffic, The Beatles, Willie Johnson and Little Milton.
Of course, it’s really a colossal mistake to call them covers – because the aforementioned legendary artists never played “Eleanor Rigby,” “More and More” and “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” anything like TTB played them on Friday night. “Rigby” was just one more welcome chance for the whisky-voiced Tedeschi to sing from the depths of her soul – a matchless vocal performance that began with the night’s first two numbers, Traffic’s “Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring” and a TTB original and soon to be classic, the spiritual-tinged “Made Up Mind.”
The “master of slide” was his usual epic self, regaling the slack-jawed crowd with an unforgettable intro before gliding the band into the melodically reflective “Midnight in Harlem,” one of the night’s high points. It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard the masterwork once or a hundred times, the haunting tune always compels the hairs on the back of your neck snap to attention.
Trucks is the rare artist that can brilliantly drive a band and command the stage with his musical presence – while seemingly flying under the radar. If not for regularly grabbing the crowd by the throat with his unmistakable fretwork, you’d almost forget he was there – almost. His blistering solo on “Idle Wind” was a literal blast to the solar plexus, leaving the stunned crowd gasping for air.
And just when the crowd thought they’d witnessed the extraordinary limits of Trucks’ genius, he shifted into hyperdrive with his mind-numbing acoustic slide work on Johnson’s timeless “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” and the Tedeschi/Trucks/Warren Haynes penned “Back Where I Started.” The exquisite two-song ride alone was ample validation of his youthful standing as one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time.
If not for the fact that another “average” guitarist has already laid claim to the title, Trucks’ effortless style would easily earn him the nickname of “Slowhand.” But after beholding his deceptively uncomplicated work on tune after tune, it would be simpler to just call the young guitar god “Easy.”
Though Tedeschi and Trucks were clearly the band’s musical heart and soul – emphasis on the heart and the soul – their bandmates more than carried their weight. When Burbridge wasn’t laying down a memorable keyboard run from his trusty Hammond B3 on the gospel-flavored “Bound For Glory,” his substantial flute solo gave added meaning to “All That I Need.” And the memorable vocal contributions of Mattison and Rivers – not to mention a furious Kebbi Williams sax solo – showcased the band’s unmatched collective virtuosity on “Don’t Miss Me.”
At some point in the standout set, the band laid into “Get What You Deserve.” And as Mattison belted out, “Well, I need you sweetie, I ain't got the nerve / You can do what you please but you get what you deserve,” more than one fan had to be asking themselves, what grand thing have I done in my life to deserve this musical radiance? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?