Boston Music Awards voters nominated Tedeschi Trucks Band for Blues Artist of the Year. Tedeschi Trucks aren’t a blues band, but the mistake is natural considering the bonfire-hot blues tunes the band did Tuesday at the Orpheum – homegrown hero Susan Tedeschi ripped into “Just Won’t Burn” and “Get What You Deserve” with guitar leads the ’60s Chicago scene would have loved.
Outsiders looking in call Tedeschi Trucks a jam band. Also a forgivable mistake. The 12-piece group certainly jams – see Tuesday performances of new tunes “Circles ‘Round The Sun” and “Pasaquan” that blended acid rock, jazz fusion, beat poetry, and r&b. But there’s so much more.
This week, the band returned to its annual multi-night Orpheum run – the final shows are tonight and Saturday. During just the opening night, Tedeschi Trucks proved once again that the band is a study in contradictions, a defiance of fixed definitions of genre, style and scene.
In the first three songs alone, the group ran through a slow-burn soul number, New Orleans stroll, and gentle-to-furious Americana tune while employing three lead vocalists: Tedeschi, singer/rhythm guitarist Mike Mattison, singer/keyboardist Gabe Dixon. The band has one of the world’s all-time guitar greats in Derek Trucks, but as often as not Trucks makes room for others – maybe the two drummers, maybe the horn section, maybe Tedeschi’s voice or her own scorching leads.
The band wants to please its devoted fan base but never let anyone get complacent. The ensemble started with five new songs – the entirety of “I Am The Moon: I. Crescent,” the first part of its four disc 2002 opus “I Am The Moon.” None of them sounded similar. In the second set, the band got into a range of covers, some expected, some not, some expected and yet reimagined.
So much attention is paid to Trucks, which is not a mistake. Over the years, he has impressed as the rare (only?) player who seems capable of seeing the aesthetics of Son House, John Coltrane and Steve Cropper as part of the same stream. But on Tuesday he took it all further. Little bits of Neil Young, Eddie Van Halen and Tom Morello snuck into his Homeric solo during “Circles ‘Round The Sun.” On Derek & the Dominos’ “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?,” Trucks added extra force and a missing melodic complexity to Eric Clapton’s old guitar parts.
And yet so much attention needs to be paid to 11 other talents. With Mattison leading the charge, the whole band gave Dr. John’s absolutely ghostly “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” a fat r&b body, the vocalist taking the voodoo chant to a bayou church. “Gravity” gave the three-piece horn section a chance to wind down a song with a long, groovy and chilling outro. Tedeschi opened the encore doing Bonnie Raitt’s signature ballad “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” her tough-and-wounded voice framed by only a piano.
To sum up: Tedeschi Trucks Band plays the blues, jam a lot, have an unparalleled guitar champ who gives equal time to his bandmates because every one of his bandmates deserves a spotlight, and Tedeschi should solo more and sing more Bonnie Raitt.