Tedeschi Trucks Band closes ACL’s 41st season with a bang

The Tedeschi Trucks Band taping "Austin City Limits" at ACL Live, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. Courtesy of KLRU-TV/Photo by Scott Newton
The Tedeschi Trucks Band taping “Austin City Limits” at ACL Live, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. Courtesy of KLRU-TV/Austin City Limits; photo by Scott Newton

It’s hard to imagine a better closing act for the 41st season of “Austin City Limits” than the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Blooming from deep roots in traditional American music but striving to create a sound that’s very much in the moment, the dozen-strong ensemble embodies precisely what ACL is all about.

Tapings this late in the year are uncommon, as not many bands are still touring in mid-December, when musical productions tend toward holiday themes. As such, Monday’s show, which was streamed live via ACL’s YouTube channel, was a welcome blast of blues-based rock ’n’ roll from a band that’s far more unified than simply a front couple surrounded by a supporting cast.

The focal point naturally is the powerful vocal presence of guitarist Susan Tedeschi, who’d already appeared on “Austin City Limits” three times before she and her guitar-playing husband Derek Trucks merged their solo careers to form the Tedeschi Trucks Band in 2010. But she’s not so much the center, and that’s clear even in the visual setup: The band is arranged like a twin-engine juggernaut, with the guitar-bass-drums-keys core at stage right strapped to a three-horns and three-vocalists overdrive at stage left.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band taping "Austin City Limits" at ACL Live, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. Courtesy of KLRU-TV/Photo by Scott Newton
The Tedeschi Trucks Band taping “Austin City Limits” at ACL Live, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. Courtesy of KLRU-TV/Photo by Scott Newton

It’s hard for any major roots-based band to swell to 12 members without tapping into our city’s talent pool, and the Florida-based Tedeschi Trucks Band now has two Austinites, with trumpeter Ephraim Owens joining longtime drummer J.J. Johnson a few months ago. Owens teams with fellow new addition Elizabeth Lea on trombone and original saxophonist Kebbi Williams in a horn section that consistently pushed the tempo Monday night.

Behind them, a trio of singers proved far more integral than the usual backup role. Recent addition Alecia Chakour and longtime member Mark Rivers flanked standout Mike Mattison, a ringer who sang lead with the Derek Trucks Band before the merger with Tedeschi and co-wrote one of the set’s highlights, “Midnight in Harlem” from the group’s Grammy-winning 2011 album “Revelator.”

Mattison also came out front to take the lead on a cover of the Titus Turner R&B staple “Sticks and Stones,” with Tedeschi taking his spot on the backup singers’ riser in a show of the band’s egalitarian spirit. The tune was one of several standout covers scattered throughout the set, including the Box Tops chart-topper “The Letter” and the Leonard Cohen classic “Bird on the Wire.”

But the show was built around new material from the band’s upcoming third studio album, “Let Me Get By,” due Jan. 29 from Concord/Fantasy. After opening poignantly with the late Allen Toussaint’s “There’s a Break in the Road” (which Tedeschi recorded on her 2008 solo album “Back to the River”), they launched into the new album’s uplifting first single, “Don’t Know What It Means.” Three more new songs soon followed, including the title track, marked by keyboardist Kofi Burbridge’s vivid solo, and the hard-charging “I Want More,” written with former Austinite Doyle Bramhall II.

The tail end of the set was more about connecting to the past. Trucks’ signature guitar sound stood out on a rendition of Derek & the Dominos’ “Keep on Growing,” written by Eric Clapton and Austin’s Bobby Whitlock. And Tedeschi got a vocal showcase on “I Pity the Fool,” a 1961 hit for Bobby Blue Bland, with whom Tedeschi was paired on her first “Austin City Limits” episode back in 1999.

An extended version of “The Storm,” from 2013’s “Made Up Mind,” that closed the main set felt like a bit of a mess, with horns, backup singers and even Tedeschi herself either absent or occasionally returning for brief cameos. Near the end, though, the rhythm section got a well-deserved chance to shine, with bassist Tim Lefebvre driving steady in the back corner as Johnson and fellow drummer Tyler Greenwell pushed feverishly to a grand crescendo.

A well-deserved encore began with “Anyhow,” the first track on the upcoming album, before Tedeschi teased the audience: “Want one more?” The reward for their thunderous response was the 1960s Coasters/Ray Charles smash “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” a perfect closing anthem that sent everyone home happy, high on the magic of music.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band’s episode of “Austin City Limits” will be a full hour and is scheduled to air Feb. 13 on Austin’s KLRU and PBS stations nationwide.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band taping "Austin City Limits" at ACL Live, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. Courtesy of KLRU-TV/Photo by Scott Newton
The Tedeschi Trucks Band taping “Austin City Limits” at ACL Live, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. Courtesy of KLRU-TV/Photo by Scott Newton

Author: Peter Blackstock

Music writer for the Austin American-Statesman and austin360.com. Twitter: @Blackstock360

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