LIVE: Tedeschi Trucks / Los Lobos / Gabe Dixon @ SPAC, 07/03/2022
There’s keeping the flame, and there’s setting the night on fire with it.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band did both Sunday as its three-act Wheels of Soul tour hit SPAC.
Tremendously soulful and strong, the 12-piece band has become dependable SPAC perennials, like the Beach Boys once were. Actually, way more dependable: The Beach Boys played well one summer; weak, the next. But TTB never lets down.
Like openers Los Lobos and Gabe Dixon, TTB is traditional in rocking reverence to their sources; that’s the flame. But their musical mastery spans R&B, blues, rock, and jazz, and they play the soul of these styles as well as the sound, so it feels emotionally fresh. That deep commitment set Sunday night on fire as much as the sparks of solo and ensemble skill.
Their two-hour-plus show built big, a considerable achievement as they started pretty high. Opening with new songs, from two of four albums hitting this year, takes big-time confidence sustained by chops; TTB has both, by the truckload. Six of their 13 songs came from new releases Crescent or Ascension. Singer-guitarist/co-leader Susan Tedeschi was in fine voice from the start in the R&B slow burn of “Hear My Dear.” At the end, guitarist co-leader Derek Trucks led the journey-to-the-stars instrumental “Pasaquan,” echoing how his previous Derek Trucks Band jammed-explored.
Maybe nothing so beautifully showed how they make music than the jazzy way Trucks launched “Midnight in Harlem” with the intro to Miles Davis’ ethereal “In A Silent Way,” then worked through the song with Tedeschi. Easing from the Miles riffs into “Midnight,” the song belonged to Tedeschi’s voice, nailing the notes but also painting pictures of its streets, and its sounds. When Trucks came back into the song at full swagger, it felt as if they’d just met on a neon-lit sidewalk with a soft “Hey, baby,” suggesting a cool idea for fun together. Romance in the riffs, soul in the sounds.
But, wait, as the fans did Sunday: We’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
Sun still splashed onto the lawn as TTB keyboardist-singer Gabe Dixon came on to open, like members of Wilco leading their sub-set groups at Solid Sound. In a tight trio (drums, bass), strong-voiced Dixon played well-made bluesy originals that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in TTB’s set and may yet find their way there. The mellow groove “Lay It On Me,” the quieter “If I Love You,” the melodica-powered “Let Me Be Your Melody” and the strive-encouraging “Further the Sky” earned their welcome on crisp playing and strong vocals. But Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” rocked and charmed to even greater effect while “Ain’t About Time” closed strong with party-time funk.
TTB friends and faves Lobos climbed back aboard the Wheels of Soul tour as soon as it hit the road again, rocking east-LA-style Sunday with more electric overdrive than retro-acoustic, antique folklore. They sang a few in Spanish, but did Buddy Holly’s rockabilly romp “Let’s Go” early in their hour-long set and the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha” to close; these rock flavors dominated.
No “La Bamba” – but, yes, “Bailar, Bailar.”
Guitarist Louie Perez only briefly played a short oval-bodied eight-string acoustic, while guitarist David Hidalgo strapped on his accordion for “Kiko and the Lavender Moon.” Los Lobos has been playing this terrific album to honor its 20th anniversary, and its spooky melancholy here hit like a change of pace among mostly upbeat songs spiced by guitar blasts from Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas.
Rosas and saxophonist Steve Berlin lamented “My Baby’s Gone” early, followed perfectly by the similarly sorrowful “Why Do You Do (The Things You Do to Me).” Whoever sang lead usually took the first solo; left-handed Rosas hitting his wah-wah pedal to go further outside, especially hot in “Love Special Delivery” from their Grammy-winning “Native Sons.” Hidalgo more than held his own, starring in “In the Neighborhood,” with Steve Berlin also taking a gruff baritone sax break. Bassist Conrad Lozano locked beats tight with drummer Alfredo Ortiz, who got a solo in “Bailar, Bailar” and the crowd didn’t need a translation to recognize this up-tune urged “Dance, Dance.”
The Tedeschi Trucks Band hit at 9:15, launching from the mid-tempo new “Hear My Dear” at full force: three horns, stage right; two drummers on a center riser, flanked by three singers; up front, keyboardist-singer Gabe Dixon, stage right; Trucks; Tedeschi and bassist Brandon Boone.
At first, Trucks rode the roll, his guitar rising up through the band’s righteous wall of soul, in “Hear My Dear” and the familiar “Anyhow.” But in “Made Up Mind,” he stepped up, out and all over, with Dixon chiming in strong, too. Trucks started “I Am The Moon” quietly enough and the horns patiently chipped into the flow, but the song surged stronger. As Tedeschi repeat-chanted the refrain, things simmered underneath; then Trucks swapped the lead with her and just burned this big ballad.
Then, out came Los Lobos guys: saxophonist Steve Berlin with the horns up top, guitarists Rosas and Hidalgo beside Trucks and Tedeschi.
War’s “The World Is a Ghetto” protested powerfully over 12 rocking minutes, this extra-big band swapping vocals and guitar solos until Hidalgo and Trucks linked up at the end. “The Sky is Crying” engaged the same force (and forces), Tedeschi owning the vocal and tag-teaming guitar leads with Rosas. At the end, Hidalgo and Trucks again kicked it hard.
The Los Lobos guys left, but the energy stayed high in “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad,” an uptempo romp. Things slowed, nicely, as Mike Mattison came down front to croon “Gin House Blues” with plenty of mojo. Tedeschi sang “Playing With My Emotions” with authority, a big R&B rocker that Trucks eased down slow in a quiet coda.
Also quiet: introducing “Midnight in Harlem” with the opening meditation of Miles Davis’s “In a Silent Way.” This set up Tedeschi’s top vocal all night, though she was strong, too, in the stirring gospel shuffle “So Long Savior.” Here, drummer Isaac Eady came down front to play guitar while keyboardist Gabe Dixon jumped on his drum kit.
Also new, the space-jam “Pasaquan” stretched to 15 minutes of interactive exploration, Tedeschi leaving the stage – horns and singers, too – so the boys could surf on instrumental waves. At times, Trucks wandered over to Dixon’s keyboard array to play face to face, as he did with the late, great Kofi Burbridge. As the tune started to fade, it instead mutated into a two-drummers roll, ala the Allman Brothers, ala the Grateful Dead (and/or Dead & Co.)
They didn’t leave the stage for long, and fired up the blues shuffle “Bound for Glory.” The horns danced into the groove as they had all night and Alecia Chakour sang up a storm while Trucks brought notes from nowhere up into the skies by striking a string with the volume off and instantly twisting the knob to make the sound soar.
A big finish to a big show.
Let’s give the whole band some:
Susan Tedeschi, vocals and guitar (mostly rhythm but some leads and solos); Derek Trucks, guitar; Gabe Dixon, keyboards and vocals; Brandon Boone, electric bass; Tyler Greenwell and Isaac Eady, drums (Eady also played guitar); Mike Mattison, vocals and acoustic guitar; Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour, vocals; Kebbi Williams, tenor saxophone; Ephraim Owens, trumpet; Elizabeth Lea, trombone.
And some notes:
- Tedeschi played and sang with assured command, maybe the best all-around performer in Bonnie Raitt’s long wake.
- Trucks only opened his mouth to smile, saying not a word but, as ever, proving to be the band’s most articulate voice.
- Dixon, on the other hand, added a fifth strong voice and played powerful, flexible piano and organ.
- Boone, at far stage left, stood in profile to face his band-mates; the whole band watched each other, they polished each other’s stars.
- Greenwall and Eady played like A drummer with four hands, four feet, and one groove mind.
- Mattison, a band-mate since the jazzy, jamming Derek Trucks Band, got a verse here and there and shone when he got a song all to himself.
- Mark Rivers about sang the house down when he took a verse in “Made Up Mind.”
- Tenor sax-man Kebbi Williams went wonderfully wild on “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad,” while trumpeter Ephraim Owens and trombonist Elizabeth Lea didn’t get solos but welded riffs tight.
- Hear My Dear*
- Made Up Mind
- I Am the Moon*
- The World is a Ghetto
- The Sky is Crying
- Why Does Love Got to be So Sad
- Gin House Blues
- Playing with My Emotions**
- Midnight In Harlem
- So Long Savior**
- Bound for Glory
* New – from Crescent
** New – from Ascension
For another perspective, read Don Wilcock’s review here.