June 10, 2015
The musical marriage of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks spawned a heckuva family. The band sports a 3 piece horn section that drapes Tedeschi’s voice and excellent blues stringing, and provides many a jumping off point for Trucks’ fiery bottleneck excursions. Casual fans may not know that long before their union, Susan Tedeschi had established herself as an exceptional blues player and vocalist in her own right, while widening the road for the likes of Samatha Fish, Beth Hart, Carolyn Wonderland, Ana Popovic and many others. Tedeschi’s voice draws easy comparisons to Bonnie Raitt, but she gets to grittier places with the force to match. Trucks’ years with the Allmans, leading his own band and supporting others (the 2006 Derek & the Dominoes rich Clapton tour, was particularly memorable) all led to here. He almost seems hotwired to another plane and the fierce intensity of his playing belies the meditative expression that accompanies most of his solos. The only flash Trucks bares is in the soul tearing notes he pulls from his SG. Some years back, I heard Trucks interviewed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, when asked about his no pick/full fingered technique, his response was along the lines of whatever I’m doing, don’t try this at home, it’s probably all wrong. Well, wrong never sounded so right. Color me a fan, big time.
So, take the Tedeschi Trucks Band, stir in the the soultown throwback of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings with blueser (and another Clapton collaborator) Doyle Bramhall II opening, drop that in the beautiful confines of the Greek Theatre and plan on a night to remember. Dubbed the Wheels of Soul tour, the evening would well live up to its billing.
Lefty Bramhall (playing a reverse strung upside down Strat) brought the goods while the sun was still out and the place was filling up. No surprise that he was included in last year’s Experience Hendrix tour keeping company with the likes of Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepard, to name a few. A very satisfying tone setter for an evening that was filled with as much blues as soul.
Now, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings would be right at home on AM radio circa 1965, and the 11-piece band (including two vocalists) dressed the part, all dark suits and skinny black ties. The Dap-Kings went to work warming up the crowd for a few tunes before Ms. Jones made her entrance. And she makes a pretty good entrance. Drawing across her six albums and a few choice covers. Ms. Jones burned a hole in the stage throughout the almost 75 minute set. Strutting, howling, cooing, moving, schooling, telling. As a photographer colleague recently posted about the evening, she is a “certifiable badass in sequins and fringe”. Don’t think I can put that any better. Whether working “I Heard It Through the Grape Vine”, channeling her best Tina Turner on “Get Up and Get Out” (and turning it into a revival for her own cancer recovery), deep tracking Gladys Knight for “In Every Beat of My Heart” or flipping Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” into churning funk, Jones is an absolute original.
Opening with “Are You Ready” and “Made Up Mind”, The Tedeschi Trucks Band found their pocket early on, both guitarists hitting chunky strides with the full force of two drummers and horns at their backs. The waltzing blues “Do I Look Worried” and the drifty “Midnight In Harlem” followed and it was clear that Tedeschi was in fine voice, her bluesy ache penetrating all the right places. Trucks’ “Get What You Deserve” led to the TTB’s take on the Beatles “I’ve Got A Feeling”. The latter, a perfect match of homage and ownership, bracingly rambunctious and potent. “Break In Every Road” really showcased Tedeschi’s Strat soloing and it was a joy to hear that out in front. “Idle Wind” went to gorgeous “Les Brers” like places, on Trucks’ transcendent playing, slowly building from Mediterranean flecked bottleneck runs to furious top ‘o the neck beauty leading into. J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell’s drum break. My personal highlight of the night. Seated behind matching Sakae kits, the two played as one, both together and individually, building on each other’s ideas brick by brick until that house was in the ground. DBII joined in for “Key To The Highway” and “All That I Need” (which he co-wrote with Trucks) and then the party cranked another notch with Sharon Jones joining TTB and Bramhall for Etta James’ “Tell Mama”. The set closed with Trucks’ aptly titled “The Storm” which indeed seemed to spawn lightning and twisters. Tedeschi, horns and vocalists leaving the stage to Trucks and the other core musicians to ride it out. Another wow moment. The full band returned with an encore of Joe Cocker’s “Space Captain”, Trucks and Trumpeter Maurice Brown call and response embodying the very live for the moment dynamic that often visits the band. The tune’s ongoing refrain, “learning to live together”, a nice mantra to feed the crowd’s glow. And, with a sound track like this evening’s, one would think that’s pretty do-able.
May these Wheels of Soul keep on rolling and never come off.