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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 9:35 pm | Fair 52º


Jeff Moehlis: Derek Trucks Band Slides Into Santa Barbara

Fire-weary Lobero crowd enjoys a young guitarist's expressive playing

What a week! The week was dominated by the Jesusita Fire, which started on Cinco de Mayo — a mere six months after the Tea Fire destroyed 210 homes in Santa Barbara and Montecito — and threatened a growing patchwork of evacuation zones that extended deep into downtown Santa Barbara, ultimately displacing 30,000 residents from their homes.

The Jesusita Fire caused several postponements on the local entertainment scene, including Lily Tomlin’s scheduled Friday and Saturday night shows at the Lobero Theatre, and she-kissed-a-girl-and-she-liked-it Katy Perry’s homecoming Saturday show at the Santa Barbara Bowl. The show must go on, unless your audience can’t enjoy themselves because their house and their neighbor’s houses might be burning down.

By Sunday, concern about the Jesusita Fire had largely passed — yes, 99 homes were destroyed or damaged, but it would have been a lot worse without the massive firefighting effort and welcome break in the weather — and the concert by The Derek Trucks Band at the Lobero went on as scheduled.

Trucks is only 29 years old but is already a veteran guitarist who has played with legends such as Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana. He is most closely associated with The Allman Brothers Band with whom he has toured for the better part of two decades.

One might say this is in his blood. His uncle, drummer Butch Trucks, is a founding member of that band, and the name “Derek” comes from the immortality-due-to-“Layla” band Derek and the Dominoes, which featured Clapton and original Allman Brothers’ guitarist Duane Allman. For the curious, in Dominoes-speak, Derek = Duane + Eric.

It is therefore perhaps not surprising that The Derek Trucks Band has a sound that is often reminiscent of The Allman Brothers Band, although more on the Stateboro Blues and Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More side of the spectrum than the Ramblin’ Man or Blue Sky side. In addition to such blues-based rock, the band stretched out with Indian-inspired instrumentals and a 20-plus minute Coltrane-esque version of My Favorite Things, with alternating solos between Trucks on guitar and Kofi Burbridge on keyboards and flute, even with a brief “quote” of the Allman Brothers’ Little Martha by Trucks.

Like the late Duane Allman, who died in a motorcycle crash in 1971 — wear your helmets, kids! — Trucks primarily plays and shines brightest on slide guitar. For the nonguitarists, this means that he slides a bottleneck-shaped tube, here made out of Pyrex, along the strings of his guitar to change the notes that are played. 

This is a rather unforgiving way to play guitar. It requires a sharp ear and a precise touch, but in a master’s hands it allows a very high level of expressiveness. To me, Trucks’ expressive phrasing calls to mind Santana’s lyrical (slide-free) guitar playing. In fact, the Santana reference is particularly apt. Both Trucks and Santana front a band named after the guitarist but neither typically sings, and both bands mix rock, blues, jazz and world music to give a tasty, percussion-heavy blend. 

In addition to Trucks and Burbridge, the red-hot band consisted of Todd Smallie on bass, Yonrico Scott on drums, Count M’Butu on congas and percussion and Mike Mattison on lead vocals. Mattison in particular displayed a wide range, from gritty blues to the falsetto in Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up. Trucks’ wife, singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi, joined in twice, including a soulful version of The Weight for the encore, which recalled Aretha Franklin’s arrangement that, incidentally, featured Duane Allman’s slide guitar.

Although the jams dragged slightly at times, overall it was a fun show. It certainly was a nice way to chill after the worries of the fire. Given the maturity of Trucks’ playing, it’s somewhat shocking to imagine that we’ll probably be able to enjoy him live for the next 30-plus years.

Slide on, brother!

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB.

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