in performance: wheels of soul tour featuring tedeschi-trucks band/los lobos/north mississippi all-stars
At the halfway point of last night’s Wheels of Soul summit at the PNC Pavilion in Cincinnati, an old adage – the one about a unison force being greater than the sum of its parts – was reborn. In the midst of a scorching and unassuming set by Los Lobos, out marched Susan Tedeschi, half of the evening’s headlining Tedeschi-Trucks Band. Initially, she sang harmony with Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo on “Burn It Down,” a taught but beautifully pensive rocker she cut with the band in 2010. That alone was a highlight, a showing of artistic kinship of co-billed artists working in solidarity. Then Tedeschi took the lead as the TTB’s three member vocal crew joined the Lobos team and served up a beautifully anthemic rendition of the Marvin Gaye soul classic “What’s Going On.” The results made for a performance home run on all levels. It underscored, in a frank and sad way, the song’s enduring topicality. But it was also a grand show of musical hands, a united front of two powerhouse acts crossing generations and creating a performance of big-hearted musical might.
All three Wheels of Soul acts – the North Mississippi All-Stars opened the evening – delivered sets of distinct, absorbing power. The All-Stars, especially frontman/guitarist Luther Dickinson, offered an expansive, maturing view of their famed “world boogie” sound. Los Lobos remained a pack of stonefaced maestros, dispensing with artful and articulate rock delicacies without seemingly breaking a sweat. Tedeschi-Trucks again asserted itself as a vital rock and soul revue, but with a slightly more streamlined sound and heavier reliance on late ‘60s/early ‘70s rock, soul and psychedelia.
But the moments where members of the three bands swapped cameos in each other’s sets offered the show’s biggest surprises and most genuine thrills.
Trucks and Dickinson traded guitar breaks during the All-Stars’ version of the Howlin’ Wolf blues nugget “I’m Leaving You (Commit a Crime)” that were refreshingly free of the usual clenched teeth, blues-rock angst and were instead utilized as layers in a colorful, rootsy fabric. Later, after the Gaye celebration, Lobos were backed by the Tedeschi-Trucks horn section for a set-closing “Mas y Mas” that rocked with rich, brassy urgency. Then Dickinson returned for a series of wild, sinewy guitar exchanges with Trucks during TTB’s set that fueled the big beat pop soul charge of “I Want More” before dissolving into instrumental ambience that quoted the Allman Brothers Band’s “Little Martha” (but sounded more like Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way”) before coming to rest with the gentle but torchy “Midnight in Harlem.”
Three bands on a single bill creating the rock and soul equivalent of a block party – midsummer Saturday nights seldom offer better.