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Concert review

The Derek Trucks Band

Wednesday at the Center for the Arts, University at Buffalo North Campus

Derek Trucks and his band come to town quite often. I've written about their shows more than a half-dozen times over the course of the past three years and measured his sets with the Allman Brothers just as frequently.

You'd think there'd be nothing left to say about the guy.

And you'd be wrong.

Over the course of two sets and several hours, the band zeroed in on, and then fully embraced, a sound that can only be described, courtesy of a Steve Earle album title, as "transcendental blues."

In past years, the majority of the magic on stage at Trucks Band shows was generated by Trucks himself, while the other members of the band -- keyboardist and flute player Kofi Burbridge, bassist Todd Smallie, drummer Yonrico Scott and vocalist Mike Mattison -- offered sturdy, inspired support.

Yes, Trucks played incredibly well on Wednesday night, better than I've seen him play. But it was the band that surprised the most.

The highest high of the night came courtesy of set two's opening track, the meditative "Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Mandi," a quarter of an hour's worth of Indian modal-based improvisation centered around Trucks' incredible phrasing and mastery of a finger-picked electric slide style.

Trucks will play a blues line, placing the listener in one cultural headspace, and promptly follow it up with Sitar and sarod-based lines, full of semi-tones, chromatic runs, and tricky speech-patterns, placing that same listener in a decidedly Eastern mode of thought.

And he does so with what seems to be complete ease.

It was truly stunning, as was a particularly tasty flute solo from Burbridge at the tune's mid-point.

For part of the show, the Trucks band was joined by two-thirds of Rochester's the Campbell Brothers, followers of the Sacred Steel faith, in which steel guitars are employed in church services to replicate or imply the moans and cries of religious ecstasy.

How fitting that lap steel player Darick Campbell traded gorgeously elongated lines with Trucks during the powerhouse "Volunteered Slavery," the two pushing each other toward some sort of glissando nirvana.

Then brother Philip Campbell stepped on stage for a jam, standing to dwarf his guitar as his huge hands traced a mighty blues-based solo, which brought applause from the crowd. It was pretty incredible.

Vocalist Mattison was in fine form, his mighty R&B-based phrasing matched by his ability to fit into whatever cultural and musical nook and cranny Trucks and band suggest.

The singer was particularly potent during the swanky "Leaving Trunk" and the Santana-like Latin rave-up "Kam-ma-lay."

Trucks and his band seem to like Buffalo. The feeling is mutual. It's been a pleasure watching this band grow. Its now far from hyperbole to call Trucks the John Coltrane of slide guitar. Not bad for a kid in his early 20s.


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