Live: Tedeschi Trucks Band / Jo Harman @ London BluesFest
I’ve never much cared for Robert Elms if I’m honest. Finding him prone to hyperbole, when he appeared under the tent at the O2 Indigo and introduced the Tedeschi Trucks Band as “The best blues band in the world, the best rock band in the world, the best band in the world”, I did have to take time out to roll my eyes.
To be fair to Elms, there is plenty of evidence to help back up such a bold claim. Husband and wife team Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi left behind highly acclaimed individual musical legacies when they pooled their talents and formed TTB in 2010. Trucks was a member of the Allman Brothers Band aged just twenty and Rolling Stone Magazine had him at sixteen in their poll of the one hundred greatest guitarists of all time. Tedeschi meanwhile was nominated for a best New Artist Grammy in 2000 for her work with her eponymously titled band. As a collaborative force, their two studio albums and the 2012 live recoding Everybody’s Talkin’ have received multiple plaudits and as individuals they’ve collected a hatful of awards too.
The first thing that strikes you about TTB is the sheer size of the band. With a three piece horn section, a keyboard player, a bassist, a brace of drummers and backing vocalists and Tedeschi and Trucks playing guitar, there are eleven of them occupying the stage. The second thing that strikes you about TTB is the quality of the individual musicianship. Each member at some point gets an opportunity to spread their wings but Trucks playing slide on a Gibson SG and Kebbi Williams on sax stood out to me and played some truly beautiful stuff. The third thing that strikes you about TTB is the quality of the arrangements – a number of which involve migration through some expansive musical landscapes. The whole band finds room to breathe and it’s all made to look remarkably easy – something it manifestly is not.
The most notable demonstration of this was when the band played The Storm from their latest album Made Up Mind to finish the first set. Opening with solo muted trumpet, the twin drum sound of Tyler Greenwell and JJ Johnson then fired up and the two played off each other superbly, their eyes glued to each other as they did so. It was all rather reminiscent of Miles Davis; i.e. brilliant, and just the right side of self-indulgent.
The above then revealed to Trucks’ guitar riff that cements the song and this garnered some appreciative whoops of recognition from the audience. For this section the percussive pair at the back ceased playing off each other and were instead locked in perfect mirror symmetry as the two of them, Trucks and Tim Lefebvre on bass drilled the groove into the floor. There were just the four of them on stage at this point and indeed the various members of the band coming and going as needed was a staple ingredient of the whole performance. To close it out, all eleven of them reappeared in stages and layer upon layer was added to great effect. Cue rapturous applause and a promise from the band to reappear shortly for the second half. The greatest band in the world? I couldn’t say; I’ve not had a big enough sample size – but they were certainly pretty damn good.
So, you’re in the finest restaurant in town and can’t decide between the fillet mignon and the lobster thermidor? Well, you could always have both. During the interval I walked to the O2 Brooklyn Bowl to await the performance of Jo Harman.
BluesFest had sold the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Jo Harman as a double header but in reality you could only see Harman if you were prepared to miss the second half of TTB. This was a bit naughty and left a number of people disgruntled as a result. It also affected the size of the audience for Harman, which was a shame. By the time she appeared it was busy but not jammed, something an artist of her considerable talent deserves. She played opening number When We Were Young to a yawning gap at the front – great for the photographers but it did feel like the school disco before anybody had had the courage to ask anybody else to dance. Harman requested that the audience make it a more intimate affair by moving forward, which they duly did.
I’ve seen Jo Harman perform a few times and I’ve been blown away on every occasion. She is a blues/soul/jazz (you can pick all of these genres, or indeed none of them – she’s quite hard to pin down) vocalist that alternates between great power at one extreme and beautiful subtlety at the other and she covers all parts in between with apparent ease. There are a number of self-penned songs on her debut album Dirt On My Tongue that we hear tonight, but we also get a selection of well chosen covers. Dylan’s Forever Young is beautifully rendered but is eclipsed by Harman’s A cappella singing of the American civil rights anthem Oh Freedom. For this she requests complete silence and fortunately she gets it, with even the bar dwellers realising there is a time and a place. Jo Harman has worked extensively with Amnesty International and when she sings a song such as this you truly appreciate that she is feeling every word. There’s no going through the motions here, the sentiment of the song practically drips from the pores. It is stunning.
But to be honest, I’m a sucker for the loud ones. My personal favourites, Through The Night and Underneath The River were both belted out with aplomb. The former features the great Hammond playing of Steve Watts, but all the musicians (Carl Hudson on piano, Nat Martin on guitar, Andy Tolman on bass and Wes Joseph behind the kit) are outstandingly good. During the instrumental sections, Harman gets completely lost in the music – her hair flailing around as if it has been caught in a particularly hectic washing machine spin cycle. I love it. “I must remember I’m not an Olympic athlete” she says whilst regaining her breath.
The nights’ music closed with Michael McDonald’s I Can Let Go Now and Better Woman, a track from Dirt On My Tongue which has a great instrumental outro. Harman left the stage and let the band finish up when they wanted. I always think that’s a cool way to end.
Tedeschi Trucks full set here: http://rockshot.photoshelter.com/gallery/Tedeschi-Trucks/G0000yhQFHAOXXSE
Jo Harman full set here: http://rockshot.photoshelter.com/gallery/Jo-Harman/G0000YjWOCDRGTUA
Photography and Review by Simon Reed. Simon has his own great photography website here: www.musicalpictures.co.uk