On a cold, slushy Wednesday night in Brooklyn, amid a week marked by both heartbreaking ends and exciting beginnings, Tedeschi Trucks Band made their way to Brooklyn Academy of Music‘s Howard Gillman Opera House to celebrate the release of their fourth studio album, Signs.
Marking their first release since 2016’s Let Me Get By, Signs was created as a reflection on the various devastating losses experienced by the group and its extended musical family over the last several years. Since late 2016, Tedeschi Trucks Band grappled with the deaths of mentors Leon Russell and Col. Bruce Hampton (whose cosmic curtain call is examined in Signs closing track “The Ending”) as well as Derek Trucks‘ uncle and original Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks and, soon after, Gregg Allman. As the band noted in a statement, “Signs reflects on the losses suffered by the band in the past few years while still finding cause for hope and celebration in the beauty of life and nature.”
“How their passing affected me,” Derek told NPR ahead of the album’s release, “was that there was the wanting to do it right and wanting to carry on whatever parts I learned from them that I could carry on. The music they made was of a special time and place. I’m never going to recapture that stuff, but I’ve certainly been able to take the lessons I learned from them.”
The events surrounding last Friday’s release of Signs added an extra layer of poetic melancholy to the album’s already bittersweet theme. The album’s confrontation of loss and heartbreak was compounded when Kofi Burbridge, the band’s longtime keyboardist and flautist, passed away at the age of 57—on the day the record was released. That night, Tedeschi Trucks Band played through the pain of this latest loss, in his hometown, performing the album in near-entirety in celebration of Kofi and his final release.
In the days since, countless fans and fellow musicians have voiced their love, appreciation, and pain at the loss of Kofi Burbridge. By the time Tedeschi Trucks Band took the stage for their official album release celebration in Brooklyn, the love and appreciation they’d experienced in the wake of Burbridge’s passing had strengthened what remains. While still reeling, the band channeled Kofi’s memory—and the memories of all the losses that inspired Signs—to deliver an emotional performance clearly colored by the lessons learned from these recent hardships.
With flowers and a portrait of Kofi adorning the stage, the core of the band began the night with a rendition of Willie Nelson‘s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces”, a new addition to their repertoire that echoes their recent heartbreak (“Somebody pick up my pieces; I’m scattered everywhere; And put me back together; Put me way over there; Take me out of contention; I surrender my crown; Somebody pick up my pieces; It’s just me comin’ down”).
From there, the band started into material from the new album, performing weighty takes on “Signs, High Times”, “I’m Gonna Be There”, and “When Will I Begin”. Next, Mike Mattison stepped to center stage to lead the band on with soulful sorrow through Bob Dylan‘s “Down In The Flood”, during which Trucks’ first mesmerizing solo of the night truly soared.
Signs lead single “Hard Case” followed, rounding out set one’s selections from the new LP. The band closed the first frame with hard-hitting takes on go-to numbers “Bound For Glory” (featuring some spellbinding vocal work from Alecia Chakour), “The Sky Is Crying” (complete with excellent blues soloing from Susan Tedeschi), and a stellar “Idle Wind” featuring a Derek-led jam on “Rastaman Chant” and a delicate yet powerful drums segment.
Following a brief intermission, Tedeschi Trucks Band returned to the stage with their pared-down 6-piece core for a rendition of the Allman Brothers Band‘s “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin'”. “Don’t Know What It Means” came next before flowing into covers of The Box Tops‘ “The Letter” and Leonard Cohen‘s “Bird on a Wire”.
The Signs numbers continued with “Walk Through This Life” and a powerful reading of the album’s tour de force, “Shame”, featuring an extended solo by interim bassist Brandon Boone. The “Midnight In Harlem” that followed was even more beautiful than usual, the crowd clearly connecting with the added emotion of this wistful rendition. Finally, the set reached its climax with the gospel-inflected one-two punch of Sleepy John Estes‘ “Leaving Trunk” and Rahsaan Roland Kirk‘s “Volunteered Slavery”. By the end of the set, the audience had their hands in the air praising the gospel of music as the tribal sounds coming from the stage kept the venue’s heartbeat intact.
When the band returned for their encore, Susan made note of the hard week the band and its fans had endured but beamed with gratitude at the “outpouring of love” they’d felt throughout this fateful week and relished the opportunity to spend the evening connecting with their loving fans. Mark Rivers then stepped forward to take lead vocals on Joe Tex‘s “Show Me” as Derek directed the horn section with unusually animated enthusiasm.
It was a heavy evening for everyone both on and off the stage. While the latest loss hung over the celebration, Tedeschi Trucks Band did what they do best—honor the memories of their friends and loved ones and use the lessons learned from them to forge a path forward.
Below, you can watch a selection of videos and view a gallery of photos from the performance courtesy of photographer Eric Gettler.
“I’m Gonna Be There”
[Video: Evan Pragliola]
“Bound For Glory”
“The Sky Is Crying”
“Idle Wind” (with “Rastaman Chant” Jam)
“Bird on a Wire”
“Walk Through This Life”
[Video: Evan Pragliola]
Next up for Tedeschi Trucks is the second half of their four-night, two-weekend run at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. on Friday, February 22nd and Saturday, February 23rd. For a full list of Tedeschi Trucks Band’s upcoming shows, head to their website here.
Setlist: Tedeschi Trucks Band | Brooklyn Academy of Music | Brooklyn, NY | 2/20/19
Set One: Somebody Pick Up The Pieces, Signs, High Times, I’m Gonna Be There, When Will I Begin, Down In The Flood, Hard Case, Bound For Glory, The Sky Is Crying, Idle Wind
Set Two: Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’, Don’t Know What It Means > The Letter, Bird on a Wire, Walk Through This Life, Shame, Midnight In Harlem, Leaving Trunk > Volunteered Slavery
Encore: Show Me