in performance: wheels of soul tour featuring tedeschi trucks band, the wood brothers and hot tuna

the husband and wife guitar team of derek trucks and susan tedeschi. photo by stuart levine.

The annual Wheels of Soul Tour, the multi-act bill assembled and headlined by the Tedeschi Trucks Band, again lived up to it still-young reputation as one of the summer’s more appealing concert attractions last night at the PNC Pavilion in Cincinnati. Now in its third year, the tour has established a reputation not only as a versed showcase for old school Americana and soul but for its largely familial design. This year’s lineup, featuring Hot Tuna and the Wood Brothers with TTB again at the head of the table, was a tad more streamlined without as much crossover involvement that made its two previous incarnations so memorable. But every sweaty note delivered in the near 90 degree temps was still a delight.

The evening-opening Hot Tuna was largely treated with sage-like respect by the two other bands, mostly because founding members Jorma Kaukonen, 76, and Jack Casady, 73, have been a touring team since the first days of the Jefferson Airplane in the mid 1960s. Kaukonen wasted no time in reaching back to that legacy by opening the 45 minute set with “Trial by Fire” from the Airplane’s 1972 swansong record “Long John Silver.” The tune reintroduced Kaukonen’s unassuming but very potent profile as an electric guitarist (most of his regional concerts in recent years have featured him in predominantly acoustic settings). Backed by Casady’s bass work, which regularly stepped out of the shadows to provide remarkably instinctive counterpoint to the set’s blues and boogie focus, and the efficient drive of current Tuna drummer Justin Guip, Kaukonen gave resourceful power trio treatment to obscurities like 1979’s wistful “Roads & Roads &” and well as the blues chestnut “Come Back Baby” the latter of which the guitarist still breathes honest, electric intensity into after 50 years of playing it.

The Wood Brothers – guitarist/vocalist Oliver, bassist Chris and percussionist/unofficial sibling Jano Rix – followed with a flexible trio set of what it called simply “American” music. That translated into the roots directed pop of the set opening “I Got Loaded” and “Shoofly Pie” that had Rix slapping out beats on the guitar-like shuitar, the merry New Orleans-flavored soul funk jam “One More Day” that sent Chris Wood (who had surgery as recently as last fall for an intestinal blockage) flying about the stage in a slippery dervish of a dance and a cover of The Band’s “Ophelia” that encapsulated Oliver Wood’s high tenor singing as well as the trio’s knowing Americana feel. But the highlight came when “mentors” (Oliver’s description) Kaukonen and Casady returned for the Rev. Gary Davis classic “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” The tune has been a Hot Tuna staple since the band’s beginnings in 1969, but last night it was presented as an appealingly ragged cross-generational jam session between the two bands.

The headlining Tedeschi Trucks Band sounded a bit more streamlined than in recent years. There wasn’t as much risk taking, the instrumental passages were briefer and the band solos were in somewhat shorter supply. Much of that can be explained to the absence of TTB mainstay Kofi Burbridge, who is off the road this summer recuperating from heart surgery. Carey Frank filled in capably on keyboards but without Burbridge’s abundant sense of invention. That said, there was a lot to enjoy in this 100 minute set. Three opening tunes from 2016’s “Let Me Get By” album (“I Want More,” “Right on Time” and “Don’t Know What It Means”) stressed all of the TTB’s strengths: the soul revue orchestration provided by a total of six singers and horn players, the band’s jubilant rhythm section (which included two drummers), Truck’s scholarly guitar sound (which ran from jazz to blues to elemental R&B riffing to Eastern improvisation) and, crowning it all, Tedeschi’s homey, soul-scratched singing. For the record, Tedeschi also reeducated the audience on her own worldly guitar abilities at several points.

The TTB’s fondness for vintage rock compositions again balanced out the original works. Two of the covers enlisted the evening’s other acts. The full Wood Brothers trio joined in on Paul McCartney’s Wings-era gem “Let Me Roll It” while Kaukonen and Casady again summoned the spirit of Jefferson Airplane by reaching back for 1967’s “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds.” That one was a portrait of contrasts. Kaukonen and Trucks studiously exchanged solos laced with ample psychedelia while Casady seemed to having a field day anchoring the groove and reaffirming his past with the TTB’s youthful, large scale gusto.



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