Last weekend I saw the Tedeschi Trucks Band in concert, their 1st show of a 6-night run at New York City’s venerable Beacon Theater, the 9th consecutive year of them playing multi-night Beacon residencies. It was my 15th time seeing the group, my single favorite extant band, and overall about the 40th time seeing its co-leader and guitarist extraordinaire, Derek Trucks, including all his appearances as part of the legendary Allman Brothers Band. I was with my wife, also a veteran of many shows, and our friends Dan and Cheryl, who were seeing them/him for the very first time. Midway through the third song, as Trucks was splintering his fretboard during an early-set solo, I glanced over at Dan, a musician himself as well as student of music theory, and his mouth was hanging open. For her part, Cheryl, an avowed fan of disco, was dancing like nobody was watching (though I was). Clearly, we had two new converts. As I observed Trucks’s transcendent playing at that moment, and then continuing throughout the night, however, I did have a criticism, unusual as it may be: in truth, he’s just too spectacular. And I’m only partly kidding.
Here’s what I mean. Derek Trucks’s playing is so stunning, so super-human, and as Dan unwittingly illustrated, so jaw-droppingly sublime, it becomes a genuine mental challenge for one, as an audience member, to maintain quite the same level of awe over the course of a show, from the time that he plays his first few inimitable and utterly unfathomable solos to when he reaches the same seemingly impossible levels for the 8th, 9th or 10th time later that night. Any one of the solos by itself – like Prince’s much ballyhooed turn on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ during the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction tribute to George Harrison – could fairly be considered among the greatest ever played. The purple one’s performance then was dazzling, without question, and worthy of the unique adulation it continues to receive to this day. But my point is, it was a one-off. Trucks, I’d resolutely contend, does that about a dozen times a night, night after night, year after remarkable year. Strung together in a given show, the individual solos are no less impressive, but over the course of a concert the mere repetition of his ability to create such astonishing musical feats can somehow become less impactful. Maybe call it “awesomeness fatigue.”
It is, perhaps, like how I can feel when seeing a great magician. After the first 2 or 3 completely logic-defying tricks I’m aghast and – illusions or not – I’m preoccupied with marveling “How the hell did he do that?!” By the time they render their 7th or 8th incomprehensible move, I tend to be more like, “Yup, there’s another one I can’t believe.” I recall once seeing Penn & Teller close a show in Las Vegas with a particularly unreal bit, and my reaction to my buddies was roughly, “Well, Penn just caught a bullet shot from a gun in his teeth. Okay, time to hit the craps table.” Like with beholding a series of majestic and incomparable Derek Trucks guitar solos, as one’s reservoir of short-term amazement largely becomes spent you’re somewhat less floored, because you’ve already seen (and heard) numerous similarly amazing things.
Or maybe I’m just an ungrateful, jaded snot. Certainly, that can’t be ruled out. Regardless, I can’t wait to put my dumb theory back to the test when I see Trucks and band again in a few days.
(This clip displays Trucks’s particular brand of magic beginning at the 3:49 mark, while capturing an earlier iteration of Tedeschi Trucks that also featured the bassist, Oteil Burbridge, now departed from the band, and on keyboards his brother Kofi Burbridge, recently departed from this earth)