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Issue 1084

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Tedeschi Trucks Band + Robert Randolph & Family Band: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11

Susan Tedeschi: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11
Susan Tedeschi: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Derek Trucks: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Robert Randolph: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Susan Tedeschi: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Susan Tedeschi: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Robert Randolph: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Robert Randolph: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Danyel Morgan (Robert Randolph's bassist): Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Susan Tedeschi: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Derek Trucks: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11 Derek Trucks: Shepherds Bush Empire 29/06/11

As I write this review, a bloke on the TV is trying to sell me a few minutes of entertainment; pay-per view coverage of the fight between David Haye and Russian giant Klitschko. But I’ve had my fix of heavyweights this week, thanks. With a unanimous decision – Wednesday night’s event was a total knockout.

Yeah. Swap the ring ropes for steel strings. Hamburg for London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire and enough energy on stage to put the National grid out of business for a night. You have a slide fest of world class guitar talents. In the blues corner we have Mr Clapton’s pal Derek Trucks on slide guitar. From New Jersey, pedal steel star Robert Randolph. But for me, the referee’s points must go to Susan Tedeschi’s spine-tingling, sweet n dirty, soul-drenched vocals.

Often compared to Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin. After this performance, she is undoubtedly Bonnie’s equal in the pipes department. But to my ears, she edges it in the grittier soul area - Bonnie taking the blues queen crown. Susan really does have breath-taking power and a natural innate soulfulness. Perhaps apt that current Rn'B superstar Beyonce, chose this venue two nights earlier for a secret gig in the wake of her main stage at Glastonbury. But for tonight; it’s Susan Tedeschi’s party. Ably aided and abetted by hubbie Derek, and a stunning 11-piece world class band.

For a tasty hors d’oeuvre, this really is a special night; with Robert Randolph and The Family Band opening proceedings. In three words: “Blew me away.” I should have known this was no filler support act. When I sat in on the sound-check to photograph Robert, his jamming with cousin Carlton Campbell on drums was a sea of grooves and lightening bolts of shock and awe. An ear to diamond-studded ear grin with sheer joy of loving what he does, totally relaxed and with a glint in his eye to say he knows he’s on to something. He sure is. But with his full band, the far too short set was like a rain of body blows and some smarting jabs, followed up by some blood-vessel bursting right hooks. Sheer power. Just six songs, four from the new CD 'We Walk This Road.' 'Don’t Change' on a Stevie Wonder tip; lead vocals from bassist and Cousin Danyel Morgan. One cover, 'Purple Haze' with some inventive improv’.

Final song, 'If I Had My Way' features a lyric about pulling the building down. Well they had a flippin’ good start, lifting the roof. Originally an old blues by Blind Willie Johnson, dug out by producer T Bone Burnett for the new CD. During the show Robert leaps up to grab the mike and teach us dance moves to 'The March', to play lap steel and then electric guitar on his knees. But there’s no need for the theatrics Robert. Sat at that Fessenden steel, he’s the man. But tonight he was surely beyond expectations? If Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Emmons had a son; they’d have called him Robert Randolph! Looking forward to hearing the BBC Radio 2 broadcast of the gig on Paul Jones’ blues show - especially as Robert’s vocals were lost in the mix for a lot of the set.

Main course: Derek and Susan with their 11-piece ensemble. Derek says nothing. No mike. No pedals or effects. A guitar and a perspex bottle neck slide bar. He doesn’t need to say a word. His guitar speaks for him. Elmore James, Lowell George and Rory Gallagher are alive and well tonight. The new material is not an obvious vehicle for Derek’s fretboard skills. It is far more than that. In fact, it’s as much as about funk and soul as it is the blues.

Three-piece horn section of trumpet, trombone and sax. Mega talents Kofi Burbidge on Hammond B3 and his brother Oteil on bass and vocals. Two drummers. Two backing vocalists, including the wonderful Mike Mattison, former lead singer with Derek Trucks own band - a real throw-back to Donny Hathaway and Otis. We get steamy Louisiana swamp shuffles. We are in Meters and Neville Brothers territory. Layer upon layer of complex time changes and infectious grooves. I expected George Clinton’s mother ship to land on Shepherds Bush green any minute. As Susan told me after the gig; “With this band we can really funk it up when we want to. And we do.” They really stick to James Brown’s doctrine to “find the groove and nail it.” And some. But it’s her vocals that seal the deal. A dirty rasp from the back of the throat. Channelling the Godmother of rock and roll, Sister Rosetta Tharp and Gospel Queen Mahalia Jackson. She squeezes every ounce of sweetness out of the notes, but her subtle phrasing is often lost underneath the crescendo of guitars and big, loud band. That voice conjured up the same emotion for me as hearing Aretha at a 500 capacity casino theatre in Milwaukee just a couple of years ago. It is a travesty that Susan has four Grammy nominations and not one gong. Well, watch out with this latest CD. If there is any justice in the world, she’ll be getting the cloth and polish out soon enough.

One guy was overheard saying she needed a stylist and a hairdresser. Well, for me, if she’d been wearing a bin bag, I’d be happy. That voice, the six inch stilettos, the sparkle in the eyes and when she straps that Telecaster to her slight frame, I’m putty. Then there’s the fan forum that said Derek lacked passion, emotion and personality. Why? Because he doesn’t wear a designer suit, utter slick patter, use effects or pedals, or pull silly faces when he plays his SG and Les Paul? Away from slide, even the finger-picking was scary. Use your ears, idiot. As BB King said after a Truck’s solo the night before, when Susan and Derek were among his surprise guests at The Royal Albert Hall, with Ronnie Wood, Slash and Mick Hucknallâ€Â¦..”I wish I could do that.” But Susan is not just another chick with a pick. At exactly 9.50pm, we get the loudest cheers of the night when she solos with runs and licks that say “hey boys. My balls are as big as yours.” Derek smiles approvingly. The sound was not allowing her guitar to cut through tonight, with the rest of the band often drowning her out, but when you did hear her, it was just superb.

Half the 14 song/2 hour set list is from new CD 'Revelator.' Third song in; 'Space Captain' is the track Herbie Hancock recorded at Susan and Derek’s home studio for his latest record which they guest on. Susan tells us her 97-yr-old Grandad gave her some advice. “Play something they know, so they can tell if you are any good or not.” So the penultimate song before the encore is a stunning version of 'Uptight' by Stevie Wonder, where the horns really lock in. Steve Winwood was spotted digging this tune on the balcony.

Tonight, and the new CD 'Revelator', places the emphasis on song-writing craft and Susan’s vocal. The guitars and band are important brush strokes, and the result is a magnificent collage of funk, soul, bluesâ€Â¦.. Nashville, Memphis, New York and New Orleans melting pot of the best damn music you’ll hear this decade. Think Tower of Power, Sly & Family Stone, Little Feat, Living Colour and Johnny
Guitar Watson. Meeting blistering slide guitar.

Rolling Stone magazine hailed the CD as “a masterpiece.” The material on the album and in tonight’s set is not safe territory. Some of Derek’s fans from his stint with The Allman Brothers and his own band, may need convincing. But taking risks works. It’s how you make new friends. This was a master-class of musicianship all round. But it was also emotional, fun and entertaining. Special. First night of the debut European tour. And who could know that Derek was in agony, nursing a broken big toe he bust while surfing a few hours before flying to Europe? I’d guess over half the audience were guitarists. Perhaps the bright skies across the UK in the wee small hours of Thursday, were instruments being burned en masse, after such a staggering display of musicianship?

...Funny: A tout trying to sell Derek Trucks a ticket while chatting to fans by the stage door before the show... Unfunny: Almost a fiver for a pint of lager at the venue... Weird: Derek has a broken toe – David Haye loses his fight and blames: a broken toe!!!

The Tedeschi Trucks Band will appear on Paul Jones BBC Radio 2 Blues Show on July 18. Robert Randolph & The Family Band will also appear on Paul's show, this time on August 15 - Both start @7pm.

All photos by kind permission of Simon Redley
Words SIMON REDLEY

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