How can you be so good and nobody knows?
Used to be about the hit single. Hell, Tom Petty even wrote a song about it. You were outside the mainstream, you had fans, the key was to come up with something radio-friendly, even if you had to hire Desmond Child to co-write the song. Then again, that was about the last time rock was preeminent. Of course, there was the Seattle/grunge/indie scene of the nineties, but once we hit the twenty first century, the old paradigm was blown apart.
Acts like the Dave Matthews Band and Coldplay, never forget that their careers were goosed by videos banged on VH1, at the tail end of that outlet being about music.
And then came the collapse of radio. AOR split into Active Rock and Adult Alternative and the only people listening were oldsters, you couldn’t break a band there to stardom. You could break them into the echo chamber of holier-than-thou public radio listeners and “New Yorker” readers, but the tracks could not cross over to pop, the only format with traction, the only one that mattered, the only one that still matters. Top Forty was and still is about pop and hip-hop. And so are the major labels providing these wares, they only go where the money is.
And with the advent of Spotify, hip-hop became dominant, because hip-hop lived online and didn’t begrudge the new paradigm while all the rockers and oldsters couldn’t stop bitching about audience theft and low payments, not knowing that without an audience, you don’t have a career. Fans keep you alive, not fickle radio, not one-dimensional streaming, you’ve got to go directly to the fans.
To the point where the records don’t mean anything.
You don’t need to own a Tedeschi Trucks album, you just need to go to the show. Which is different every night.
Now the problem Derek Trucks has is his last name. People believe he got a pass because of his uncle Butch. But if his last name was Smith, or something else, anything but Trucks, the accolades would be raining down. He’s John Mayer but with a completely different personality and playing style. He doesn’t emote, he barely moves, there are no wringing facial expressions. And he never talks on stage, even though he’s fully capable of expressing himself off it. He just wails. It’s astounding, he’s world class.
Actually, last night he told Wayne that the audience was better than the band in the first set, and he had to rectify that. I don’t know if he rehearsed during the break, which he and the band frequently do, but from the very first note of the second set, Derek was wailing he was floating above the audience. The only reference point I can give you is “Statesboro Blues” from “Fillmore East.” You know, you’re sitting there complacent and you drop the needle, Derek takes the stage and whew, he and you are immediately into it. It’s like he casts a spell on you and you’re taken along for the ride.
And you’re enjoying it.
I’m loath to go see the usual suspects these days. I’ve seen them when they made it, on their comeback tour, on their cleanup tour… I want something new.
And if you go to the arena, other than Ed Sheeran, who’s in a class by himself, all you get is pre-programmed junk. It’s all about timing the production and Tedeschi Trucks has no production. Oh, you might see a bird or the moon on the backdrop, but really it’s all about the music.
Furthermore, cell coverage is nearly nonexistent at the Orpheum. So, other than people shooting video, phones are in pockets, you’re forced to watch the show.
So it’s like the days of old. During the quiet numbers you sit there contemplating your life, thinking about where you’ve been, where you’re going.
And yes, people were sitting, except when they were forced to stand up by the joy of the music. All that hogwash about the energy of GA (general admission for the uninitiated)… I don’t care what they say, it’s a way for promoters to squeeze more bodies in, even though they deny it. Then again, these are the same people who keep two sets of books, one for the act and one for themselves…which they have to to stay in business, since the acts demand outrageous guarantees.
But last night you could contemplate the music, you could go on a journey. It wasn’t an event, it was a party.
And everybody aged.
Sure, there were some thirtysomethings there, but mostly it was Gen-X and baby boomers, the people who caught the Allmans and the Dead the first time around. “Vision Of Love” was thirty years ago, millennials and Gen-Z have never even been exposed to this music.
Call it jam band, but that’s not really accurate, there was almost no noodling, the act was tight.
Call it music. You remember music, don’t you?
So, they’ve been slugging it out for ten years. Building an audience. They did two sold out Orpheums, they could have done three, but if you’re not in the know, you don’t know.
Tedeschi Trucks has a deal with Concord. One of their albums debuted at number 11, two others at number 12 and 15. In the old days, they’d be rich, in the new days they’ve just got to go back on the road.
And it ain’t cheap. You’ve got the band, with its two drummers and keyboard player, and a horn section and backup singers. You can make more money by stripping it down, but you don’t create the same magic, and it’s the magic that gets people to buy tickets.
Now the music is kind of a cross of the Allmans and the Dead. You don’t know what you’re gonna get. And when the band broke into “Sugaree,” the assembled multitude jumped to their feet, this music is in their DNA.
But there were a lot of other surprises, like “Space Captain,” with the same arrangement as “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.”
So what I’m saying is despite more people making more music, the conversation is dominated by hip-hop and pop. Drake and Ariana Grande. And it’s not that they’re not successful, but acts in other genres are successful too, and these other acts make their nut by selling tickets, not streams. And that’s the world we live in. Where it’s all about the road.
And oftentimes once is enough.
But with Tedeschi Trucks, you’ve got to go every time, because you don’t know what you’re gonna get.
The fans know.
But we live in a media monoculture, which doesn’t square with the real world. Now, more than ever, there are acts not playing the radio/streaming game who have dedicated fan bases, big dedicated fan bases. You go to see Tedeschi Trucks and you’re elated, by the fact that in their world it’s the same as it ever was, with no hard drives and musicians who’ve paid their dues.
I guarantee you, if the youngsters went they’d get it. Hell, they might even be tempted to pick up a guitar. Because they’d want to be on stage, having fun. Sure, the road is a grind, but if you can play what you want as long as you want…now that’s something to look forward to every night.
It’s not nostalgia, it’s just a continuing thread.
This is not Blues Traveler on MTV having a hit and driving an audience, this is an act with no spotlight fighting it out in the trenches. To the point when you go, you can’t stop testifying about the experience. That’s part of the fun, spreading the word.
So Tedeschi Trucks gives me hope for music.
But it also launches an inner mounting flame inside me, a glimmer of light illustrating we may get back to where we once belonged, just you wait.