From the very first notes, Susan Tedeschi brought the house down.
It's not every night you see an audience busting out standing ovations only two songs in, but the Tedeschi Trucks Band is no ordinary act. With Derek Trucks, #16 on Rolling Stone's list of the greatest guitarists of all time; soul, blues and R&B vocalist and guitarist Susan Tedeschi; and an arsenal of rock-solid musicians from each star's solo acts, it's no surprise a grown adult member of the audience at Overture Hall on Tuesday night couldn't resist shouting out a giddy "Welcome to Madison!" as TTB (as their fans know them) stepped up to their mics.
Opening act the Congress was the perfect segue. This Denver quartet have soul in their young bones. Vocalist and guitarist Scott Lane wails like the love child of Dickey Betts and Aretha Franklin, born on Betts' Greyhound bus. The Congress played a combination of their soul favorites and blues and Motown originals, with a strong dose of straight-up country rock.
By the time they got to the soul ballad "Keep Virginia," they were absolutely tearing the house down, showing off beautiful vocal harmonies and particularly tight keyboard work. Appropriately, the Congress closed with "You've Got a Friend," and judging from the audience's reaction, anyone in the crowd hearing their music for the first time had indeed been converted.
To a screaming crowd, TTB kicked off their set with "Misunderstood," a sweet funk number from their new album, Made Up Mind. From the very first notes, Tedeschi brought the house down, her Bonnie Raitt-meets-Etta James vocals the ideal complement and indisputable equivalent to Trucks' legendary guitar prowess. The two of them, together, cut through the ensemble's full, rich sound like a hot knife through butter, knowing just when to hold back or take over.
Trucks, by the way, has never sounded better. Those who've followed his career may be shocked to learn -- or remember -- that he's only 34. With only the whisper of facial affect and barely a budge from his position onstage, his performance seemed truly effortless, splashing classical elements and screaming rock riffs onto a country-blues canvas, supported by a very able band.
TTB's strong rhythm section is an especially welcome backbone on slower jams, and from the horns, including Kebbi Williams -- who plays sax like he’s getting electrocuted while doing the soundtrack for a bicycle ride through rush hour in Paris -- to the remarkable Kofi Burbridge on keyboard and flute, Trucks and Tedeschi are surrounded by talent. And Tedeschi has serious guitar chops to match her pipes, frequently holding her own with her husband and partner in call-and-answer improvisation. It all felt joyous and alive, descending into playful cacophony, then emerging like a woken beast, and later settling into keyboard-centric slow jam.
In one highlight, Tedeschi invited an old friend, Milwaukee singer Rhonda Begos, to the stage, and performed a killer rendition of John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" with Burbridge accompanying with a shredding flute solo. In another, harmony vocalist Mike Mattison took the lead with a raspy blues scream on the rocking "Get What You Deserve."
After nearly two hours in a maelstrom of gospel, soul, blues, funk and country, Trucks and Tedeschi wailing in the center, no question remained: Together Trucks, Tedeschi and their band are greater than the sum of their parts, and they deserve each other in the best possible way.