We've considered Tedeschi Trucks Band the best act to see live for quite some time now. It's not just because of the changing setlist or the supreme musicianship from each and every piece of the ensemble. Possibly it's for those aspects together, but even more likely, it's because each and every show comes off as truly special. They're on the top of their game every night and so every single concert is a thing of wonder.
This occasion marked the second of two nights at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J. Specifically it was Valentine's Day, but the band doesn't really cater to Hallmark holidays. As usual, I avoided looking online at the setlist the previous night for spoilers' sake. Although, again, it's pretty difficult to spoil a TTB show.
The opener was Amy Helm, daughter of one of our musical heroes -- the late, great Levon Helm of The Band. She and her band, including London Souls guitarist Tash Neal, got in the groove right away, impressive enough. A couple of songs later she informed us it was only the second time they had played together. One rehearsal and then our show. We were knocked out before she introduced herself as Amy Helm from Woodstock, N.Y.
"Atlantic City" seems to have become the cover of choice for artists passing through Jersey, but at least it was well done. The set capper was Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can Can," performed with great verve and garnering a wealth of applause not often reserved for opening acts. And now we're ready to see Amy during her own tour.
TTB setlist: Don't Let Me Slide, Laugh about It, Just as Strange, All the World, Right on Time; Don't Know What It Means; Shame; Leaving Trunk; The Sky Is Crying, Alabama, I Wish I Knew, All My Friends, I Want More. Encore: Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (with Amy Helm), Bound for Glory.
And speaking of that, there's Susan. I've mentioned before how incredible it is that she's so proficient and both the vocal and guitar front. On the Les Paul, she damn near drew tears on "The Sky Is Crying" -- as Mark pointed out, using some of Ronnie Earl's trademark picking in the process.
It's always great to hear vintage Derek Trucks Band material reconfigured for TTB. I enjoy it greatly when Mike Mattison steps forward to share lead chores on "I Wish I Knew" with Susan since he fronted Derek's band at the microphone. I haven't been to many shows in which Susan's solo material made the setlist, but some of her songs have been making the cut recently as well. I don't have any complaints about our show, though, we got a solid mix of standards with newer tunes such as "Shame" and "Alabama."
Derek was as unflappable and contemplative as ever. At one point, Mark spotted him having trouble tuning his E string. Instead of getting increasingly frustrated by it, he was just laughing about it with bassist Tim Lefebvre. We can all take a lesson from that.
"All My Friends" was a tender tribute to Cowboy's Scott Boyer, who passed away the previous day. Boyer's song also called to mind all the losses Tedeschi Trucks Band and the musical universe has suffered in the past couple years -- Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and Col. Bruce Hampton, to name but three more. "All My Friends" fit really nicely into the set between "I Wish I Knew" and "I Want More," although the original setlist had it following "Shame." That was a nice audible by Derek.
And just as touchingly, Amy was brought back for the first number of the encore, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" Trust this band not to make an obvious Band choice, like say "The Weight," when they can choose a tune that originated as a hymn but came to mean so much spiritually to Levon Helm's band. Singing with, well, the term "backup" seems too derogatory for what Alecia Chakour, Mark Rivers and Mattison bring to the company, so I'll go with the TTB bio's "harmony singers" -- Amy was tucked away on the far right and her joy was palpable. As was ours, Amy. As was ours.