Friday, September 7, 2012

BB King, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Hollywood Bowl, 9/5/12: A Review

Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing Derek Trucks play guitar knows that he is something special.  Even as a teen prodigy, Trucks opened for The Allman Brothers, and left much older musicians and audiences flabbergasted by his already impressive playing.  Now, 20 years later, Trucks is, quite simply, one of the greatest players that will ever be.  He plays without a pick, like Jeff Beck; but his liquid slide technique, that borrows as much from middle eastern quarter tone melodies as it does from Blues greats, is uniquely his own.

Until Wednesday's Blues Night at the Hollywood Bowl, a show that featured Tedeschi Trucks Band opening for BB King, I had not seen Derek Trucks perform live.  Sure, I'd torn through YouTube archives of performances and interviews, and I thoroughly enjoyed recordings featuring his playing.  But these hardly prepared me for my emotional response to seeing The Tedeschi Trucks Band live.  Fronted by Trucks' bullet-throated, uber-talented wife Susan Tedeschi, who deserves additional mention for her own Freddie King/Muddy Waters styled six-string prowess, TTB ripped through a tight and flawless set that featured not only the talents of the band's namesakes, but also those of their 9-piece backing band.  Bassist Oteil Burbridge deserves special mention for his greasy bottom end bump that, along with dual drummer/percussionists Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson, provided a deep pocket for the rest of the band to sink into.  A talented group of backing vocalists and horn players further elevated the overall emotive strength of TTB's performance, which won over a crowd largely gathered to see the great BB King.

King turned in a memorable if uneven performance.  His set, which began with a funky five minute jam featuring solos by each member of his 8-piece backing band, showcased BB's skill as an entertainer.  His happy, generous spirit created rapport with the audience that made the nearly sold-out Hollywood Bowl feel as intimate as a neighborhood dive bar.  And while King's guitar playing is not what it once was (he is 86 after all), when he sang, it sounded and felt just like it must have in 1970, when he was at the top of his game.

After truncated versions of hits including my favorite The Thrill is Gone, BB invited Susan Tedeschi and "Trucks" to join him on stage.  John Mayer also joined and after a bit of unscripted chaos, the four sat center stage and embarked on an amusing if disconnected bit of banter and light guitar playing.  After poking fun at John Mayer for not being able to talk and for "staying out late last night kissing," BB turned to Trucks and said, "Trucks, it's a good thing I'm a boy, cause if I was a girl and I heard you play like that..." He then turned to Tedeschi and added "I see why you married him," before commenting again to Trucks "that's just about the best I ever heard."

At times, this end of the set banter felt awkward and uncomfortable.  But it also felt a bit like a passing of the torch.  Once upon a time, BB King could make a statue cry with the mere bend of Lucille's g-string.  And while, his voice could still bring life to a dead woman's eyes, age has diminished his skills as a guitarist.  King's body of work has cemented his reputation as one of the best guitarists there will ever be and he seemed to take pleasure in shining a little light on Trucks, a new inductee to that small club.  Derek Trucks is nothing if not an example of the lasting influence of BB King and his contemporaries.  I'm quite sure that seeing Trucks take the torch is a thrill and a comfort to the 86 year-old King, who can rest knowing that his influence will live on even when he is gone.           

BB King Live, In His Prime