The Wheels of Soul tour rolled onto the main stage at the Mann Center this past Wednesday night with absolutely no shortage of groove. Tedeschi Trucks Band delivered an incredible performance, as did their openers.
Shovels & Rope warmed the crowd up first with their folk harmonies and country-rock melodies. Members Carry Ann Hearst and Michael Trent were in perfect sync, wearing matching “By Blood” t-shirts to promote their latest album. I guess that kind of magical euphony comes with marriage? Both parts of the duo switched instruments throughout their set, pleasing the crowd with new tracks from By Blood like “Mississippi Nuthin'” and “Hammer”, as well as hits like 2012’s “Birmingham.” I loved seeing Hearst taking over the percussion. Female drummers are badass, period.
Blackberry Smoke kept things equally as hot on stage. The group’s luscious locks were flowing beneath the TD Pavilion, as their southern rock got the crowd moving. Charlie Starr’s vocals were on point, as were his electrifying guitar leads. Highlights included The Whippoorwill‘s “Ain’t Much Left of Me” and a cover of “When the Levee Breaks.” Nothing brings the hype like a Led Zeppelin cover, especially with a venue and an audience like this.
Tedeschi Trucks Band wasted absolutely no time raising the energy as they jumped directly into “Don’t Let Me Slide” with an expectedly insane slide solo from Derek Trucks. The way he handles his instrument sounds like nothing else. It’s unmistakable. Susan Tedeschi’s voice is the same way — stunningly raspy and raw. The two of them fit together like puzzle pieces. More of that special marital harmony, I suppose.
One of my favorite components of the show was the backup singers who came front and center for several songs. For example, Tedeschi stepped aside for “Right on Time” and let harmony vocalist Mike Mattison (former singer of the Derek Trucks Band) belt the lead. I enjoyed seeing Tedeschi vibe with the backup vocalists almost as much as I enjoyed actually hearing them sing. She seemed humbled to share the stage with such incredible voices. Mattison also took the lead when the group played “Life is Crazy”, a cover of the track from his 2014 solo album, You Can’t Fight Love.
TTB engaged with their audience several times throughout the night, which injected their groove with that much more energy. Most memorable was “Made Up Mind”, when Tedeschi got the crowd clapping along. The pavilion filled with the sound of hands smacking together as backup vocalist Mark Rivers took a powerful solo with tambourine in hand.
Allman Brothers Band cover “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin'” had to be one of my favorite songs on TTB’s setlist. Keyboardist Gabe Dixon sang the entire song and hit crazy high notes while cranking out intricate organ solos. “Don’t Know What It Means” was another highlight, which included an ornate, obscure saxophone solo from Kebbi Williams that dissolved the song into soulful chaos.
Other covers included in Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Mann visit were Elton John’s “Border Song,” Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free” (which featured beautiful alternating solos by vocalists Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour), and Carlos Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice.” The encore began with Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” and concluded with Leon Russell’s “Stranger in a Strange Land.” where Charlie Starr returned to the stage to sing with Tedeschi.
I definitely would’ve enjoyed hearing more TTB originals, specifically old ones from Revelator and Made Up Mind, but don’t get me wrong — each cover they played was stellar.
You didn’t think I was going to end this review without dedicating a paragraph to the staggering amount of talent that Derek Trucks possesses, did you? When I say he blew me away, I mean that I think he’s the greatest guitar player I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness. The speed with which his fingers move seems humanly impossible, not to mention how effortless it looks. Trucks has a stage presence that oozes cool. There’s no two ways about it. He’s calm and collected yet he annihilates slide leads in a way that is entirely his own. The control he has over his instrument makes me believe that it’s a continuation of his body. Was he born with a guitar in his hands? I think maybe he was.
But seriously, Tedeschi Trucks Band is untouchable because of the thoughtfulness and skill with which they put together their music and performances. There are so many components that went into making this an incredible show, and those same things make their music amazing too. From the power of the backup vocalists’ voices, to double drummers Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson, to tasteful horn arrangements, to Trucks’s decisions to slide or not to slide, to adding a little bit of shaker to a song — every choice is made deliberately. Each one of the 12 band members that stood on that stage is a highly skilled musician, and they made for an unforgettable Wheels of Soul experience.
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