By Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) - When Tedeschi Trucks Band took the stage at a packed Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday night, the rapturous applause they drew was not what might be expected for a U.S. group whose new album peaked at 52 in the British charts.
While they are far from a household name in Europe, the band is considered something of a supergroup in blues circles, and interest in their show at London's Bluesfest has been surpassed only by Led Zeppelin legend Robert Plant.
Formed by married couple Susan and Derek, they were last here in 2011 when they joined B.B. King on stage, but now they have returned with their 11-piece outfit to headline the venue in their own right.
"It's hard to travel with a band this big, but when you get the offer to play the Albert Hall... you make it happen," Derek Trucks, the band's founding guitarist, told Reuters in an interview before the gig at the 5,300-seat venue.
The couple are established artists in their own right. Trucks is a master of slide guitar, and considered the 16th greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
Aged 34, he is the youngest living player on the list, and has made the most of his prodigious talent - forming the Grammy award-winning Derek Trucks Band and joining the famed Allman Brothers' Band before his 21st birthday.
Trucks, indeed, is a nephew of Butch Trucks, a founding member and drummer of the Allman Brothers.
"He's the top player, as far as I'm concerned," said concertgoer Adam from Exeter. "He's got the feel, he's got everything."
For her part, Susan Tedeschi, lead vocalist and guitarist, had racked up five Grammy nominations herself before joining forces with her husband, nine years after they got married.
While Trucks admits that leaving their old bands behind was a risk, the gamble paid off. The band have performed at the White House, and are back with a second studio album, "Made Up Mind", after their first won a Grammy for Best Blues Album.
Tedeschi is especially proud of her recognition as a female blues singer. "How many women get to do what I do? There aren't many. You can name them," she said.
Even at a Bluesfest gig, however, it is clear that the band draws on many influences other than the genre for which they won a Grammy.
Trucks soars, combining his signature Allman-inspired slide guitar licks with elements of jazz and Indian raga music, while a twin drum attack and horn section help to bring funk to the 19th-century auditorium. "We are all blues artists, but we're more versatile than just blues," Tedeschi said.
Her powerful voice drives the songs forward, but her playing is strong too, going toe-to-toe with Trucks in what they describe as a "guitargument" on "Misunderstood" and getting one of the biggest cheers of the evening for her solo on Elmore James's "The Sky is Crying".
"She's a very talented woman, a great singer and she can play a mean guitar as well," Donal, originally from Belfast, said.
The crowd is a mix of first-timers and old fans, and while the band enjoy reaching more people, their priority remains the music.
"We'd like a larger audience, but on our terms," Tedeschi said, voicing disillusionment with the popularity of some modern acts that use computers and recorded material on stage, at the expense of musicianship and live instrumentation.
"We have kids, and the stuff their friends are listening to, it's not healthy," Trucks said. "There's so much mediocre music out there, and you believe in what you're doing so much, that you want more people to hear it, because it's medicine. It's better than the other stuff we're being fed."
(Editing by Michael Roddy and Mark Heinrich)