Tedeschi Trucks Band with special guest Little Feat at the Santa Barbara Bowl, June 5, 2024 | Photo: Carl Perry

In the case of the great American Tedeschi Trucks Band, the term family-friendly takes on new depth and meaning. Slide guitar master Derek Trucks’ connection by musical and marital bonds with soulfully sandpapered singer (and fine guitarist) Susan Tedeschi created a unique and powerful blues-rock-jam-worldly-otherworldly little big band, and this after Trucks himself had cut his teeth playing in his uncle drummer Butch Trucks’ Allman Brothers operation.

As they landed in the amiable embrace of the Santa Barbara Bowl last week, where Trucks has played with both TTB and a later incarnation of the Allman clan multiple nostalgic and livewire forces converged for one of the most satisfying and musically adventurous Bowl nights of the unfolding season. Somehow, a TTB show takes on a communal, dare we say familial vibe, to which we’re invited as extended kinfolk.

Tedeschi Trucks Band with special guest Little Feat at the Santa Barbara Bowl, June 5, 2024 | Photo: Carl Perry

On this occasion, the opening act had special ties to the headliner. Little Feat itself created a classic American stew of swampy, organically funky, New Orleans-y goods, also infused with sophisticated and jam-leaning detours. To catch the band now, though, is a tricky and slightly dubious proposition.

I remember instantly becoming a rabid fan in high school, after hearing Little Feat at the Bowl in the mid-1970s (as well as at the Arlington and UCSB’s Robertson Gym). Then, cerebral bluesman/kingpin Lowell George was its presiding ringmaster and charismatic front person. To purists, the “real” Little Feat died with George, in 1980, although various permutations have continued on, with a rotating cast of musical characters in the mix and with varying fidelity to the original vision.

With the recent passing of critical guitarist-singer Paul Barrere, after signature drummer Richie Hayward years back, the only remaining charter members are the anchoring keyboard powerhouse Bill Payne, percussionist Sam Clayton and bassist Kenny Gradney, with Scott Sharrard (former musical director for the Gregg Allman Band) as a strong guitarist-singer in the spotlight, and Fred Tackett moving from the margins to stage front. It begs the question: at what point does a legacy band lacking its key members become a semi-cover band?

All those historic and logistical issues aside, the Bowl set reminded us of the importance of keeping this great songbook alive — and in the live arena. As they wended through a set of elastic versions of “Spanish Moon,” “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Tripe-Faced Boogie” and an uptempo, gospel-ized “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” bumping up into ecstatic double time, the Feat magic grabbed hold, once again.

Tedeschi Trucks Band with special guest Little Feat at the Santa Barbara Bowl, June 5, 2024 | Photo: Carl Perry

From the opening song, “Hear My Dear” — a keynote opening track of their epic 24-song 2022 album I Am the Moon — the special chemistry of the Tedeschi Trucks Band immediately took charge of the venue for two hours. Deep into the song, Tedeschi’s spotlight was shared by Trucks’ sweetly virtuosic slide work, embodying the fact that this group is rooted in the sympatico of Tedeschi’s emotional pitch and Trucks’ almost voice-like melodic flexibility of his slide guitar work. They get along famously, musically.

Tedeschi Trucks Band with special guest Little Feat at the Santa Barbara Bowl, June 5, 2024 | Photo: Carl Perry

But they couldn’t do it alone. The integrated 12-piece band, including two drummers (as in the Allman Brothers), horns and background singers sometimes invited to lead vocal spotlights, settled into a necessarily diverse set, befitting the organically genre-blending recipe this band continues to refine and expand. Of the original component, they leaned on tunes from I am the Moon, including the title track’s entrancing soulful slow build, and such older favorites as the old school soul punch of “Part of Me,” and the infectious idealism of “Anyhow.”

They also freely tip a collective hat to the many influences on their musical vocabulary through sundry cover tunes, from John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” (with Tedeschi echoing similar-toned Bonnie Raitt’s version) to the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree” and the Rolling Stones’ “Monkey Man.” Tedeschi issued more soul chops on the Aretha Franklin tune “It Ain’t Fair” and “Beck’s Bolero” — perhaps an homage to the belated guitar hero Jeff Beck? — arrived at show’s end.

A half-hour venture into improvisational outer limits showcased the unusually wide-eared style of Trucks’ playing. Despite his mild-mannered onstage persona, Trucks is a musical monster in the gentle giant-like way, as he mixes references to blues, Duane Allman-ish turns and R&B with his interests in Hindustani and Qawwali music from India and Pakistan, respectively, and jazz touches all along the way. On this night, Trucks played both his trademarked slide in tow, and Tedeschi was thankfully given more spotlight than usual for her own fine guitaring, including tasty slide work (again, like Raitt).

Come encore time, the extended family gathering vibe filled the stage as Feat members Payne and Sharrard joined the ensemble party on bluesman Sleepy John Estes’ “Leaving Trunk” and jazz legend Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Volunteered Slavery” to close. The Feat guests burned boldly in their solo moments, and when it came time for Trucks to stretch out, he teasingly toned things down with a short murmuring solo, and then humbly yielded his time to a different “slide- oriented” voice in the band, trombonist Elizabeth Lea.

That’s the kind of thing you do, as a peaceable father figure in a band like TTB.

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