As the last days of a hot summer trickle away, there’s nothing better than a fun night at the Hollywood Bowl. Normally, shows take on the multi-band bills of KCRW’s World Music Festival. Tonight was blues night though, and featured a special one-two punch of the Tedeschi Trucks Band and the living legend B.B. King. Running a lean two and a half hours total, this show lasted just long enough to draw you in, but also felt like it ended just a bit too soon.
Tedeschi Trucks Band was up first, and handily demonstrated how they transcend the standard configurations of southern rock and jam band music. The band is comprised of husband and wife partners Derek Trucks (most famous for being guitarist in The Allman Brothers Band), Susan Tedeschi and nine additional players (Oteil Burbridge, Kofi Burbridge, Tyler Greenwell, J.J. Johnson, Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers, Kebbi Williams, Maurice Brown and Saunders Sermons). The result is a bright and lively sound, where nearly each and every member of the group displays an impressive degree of technical skill, implying years of training and practice far beyond their actual age. Befitting his role in The Allman Brothers Band, Derek Trucks is a fully intimidating talent on the slide guitar. Playing entirely through finger picking, his technique shows a masterful and effortless command of his instrument. His wife is no slouch either, rendering complex scales on par with other female greats like Bonnie Raitt. Tedeschi sings each line with a forceful weight; coupled with the standard amplification it’s an eye-opening vocal timbre.
The band also wisely let’s several other members take the stage on lead vocals for various songs. It would be enough to have Tedeschi lead each song, but backing singers Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers are soulful and equally talented. The band delivers an appropriate and moving tribute to the late Levon Helm, performing a loose and jovial rendition of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The set concludes with a triumphant finale. Their song “Bound For Glory” becomes a voluminous series of inter-locking melodies and exciting solos. The capacity crowd cheers with enthusiastic delight at the performance.
Not long later, B.B. King’s band takes the stage and plays a short interlude, allowing horn players James “Boogaloo” Bolden, Stanley Abernathy, Melvin Jackson and Walter King to take brief solos before the king himself arrives. The man known as B.B. King comes out and sits on a modest chair at center stage. For a man 86 years old, he seems remarkably focused and happy. He cracks many jokes with his band members and sings with wide-eyed, colorful expressions. “I Need You” is a charming and appropriate way to begin, allowing King to show off his soothing vocals. Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Gave is Kept Clean” and a shortened rendition of “When Love Comes to Town” follow, and these give the best of examples of King’s six-decades-in-the-making unique style. Each note is measured, and deliberately minimal. He pauses to feel the rhythm and carefully bends through small pieces of scales, opting to punctuate the feeling rather than show an overwrought showing of technique.
King pivots almost mid-phrase and shifts the band into the quintessential blues standard “The Thrill is Gone.” The number is abbreviated to allow time for a joyous finale. Derek Trucks (who King refers to only as “Trucks”), Susan Tedeschi and yes, John Mayer all come out and take a seat for an extended and loose jam on “Guess Who.” King quips to Mayer, “It’s a good thing I’m a boy. Because if I were a girl when you played like that…” Mayer, Tedeschi and Trucks all take several lead breaks at King’s insistence. Trucks shines through the most with his daunting level of technique. Being present for this feels like witnessing first-hand an important moment in musical history. The past and present united in a simple, fun evening. It’s hard to imagine a world without B.B. King, and here’s to hoping we won’t know a world without his playful, soulful spirit.