Tedeschi Trucks Band w/ Los Lobos & Gabe Dixon: Rose Music Center; Dayton, OH; Sunday, July 24, 2022
Generally speaking, journalistic practice requires one to start a concert review with the focus on the established headliner, the artist at the top of the ticket, the reason most fans paid hard-earned money to attend a specific show. However, the unique make-up and size of the Tedeschi Trucks Band and the unique way they have designed their summer “Wheels of Soul” shows – generously inviting the members of their opening acts to sit in with their already oversized musical community, as well as joining their friends during their sets – well, on this occasion, we’ll start at the beginning.
Keyboardist and singer/songwriter Gabe Dixon has been a recording artist under his own name since 1999, but to Tedeschi Trucks fans he’s likely best-known as the keyboardist and vocalist who joined the band in 2019 following the death of long-time member Kofi Burbridge. In the band setting he’s most recognizable for his Hammond organ soloing and his vocal duet with Susan Tedeschi on “I Am the Moon,” the title track of the band’s first of four EP’s to be released – one a month – over the course of this summer. Here, playing his own music, Dixon proved to be a virtuoso on his electric piano, delivering jazzy, accessible pop with the support of a rhythm section of bass and drums, both who added vocal harmonies when fitting. He opened with “Lay It On Me,” an original song that displayed his catchy songcraft, strong piano chops, and warm, friendly singing voice. Wasting little time he brought out TTB sax player to add a solo on “Let Me Be Your Melody,” doubling up the song’s bright, soulful R&B energy, Dixon opening and closing the song blowing as he played the melody on his hand-held Melodica keyboard. He explained that that song is on a new EP of the same name, as well as “First Time All Over Again,” which came next. He followed that with an inventive cover of the Bob Dylan classic, “Tangled Up in Blue,” singing the familiar words with spirit, and playing jazzy piano chops, at times riding up to the high end of the keyboard with gospel music flourishes, then closed out his set with another funky pop original, “Ain’t It ‘Bout Time.”
The last time Los Lobos played The Rose, it was a set opening for Emmylou Harris and one of the lead singers and the band’s primary guitarist, David Hidalgo had left the tour to attend to his daughter, who was reportedly giving birth to his grandchild. Sunday night the full band was welcomed back to the stage, and immediately dove into the plaintive rock of “Will the Wolf Survive?”, an unofficial theme song that dates back to their 1984 major label debut. Then switching gears, Caesar Rosas (he of the left handed guitar) launched the band into the fast, early pop rock energy of “Love Special Delivery,” the opening track and first solo from their 2021 release, Native Sons, which featured Steve Berlin on baritone sax. Staying with the energy of that release, the dove into the old school rock & roll feel of “Flat Top Joint,” a song they covered by their LA mates, The Blasters. The going back to their Latin American musical roots, they offered up “Chuco’s Cumbia,” song by Rosas in Spanish, and featuring Louie Perez playing rhythm on the small, native guitar-like instrument, a jarana huasteca, and elevated by a lengthy guitar solo from Hidalgo and more fun bari-sax from Berlin. Then, in tribute to Ritchie Valens, who wrote one of Los Lobos’ most requested songs, “La Bamba,” they played another of his early rock & roll hits, “Come On, Let’s Go,” which was followed by a song I didn’t recognize driven by a big beat and driving bassline from Conrad Lozano and current drummer Alfredo Ortiz, and the country leaning ballad, “Emily.”
Again, switching gears and shifting into overdrive, Hidalgo led the band into the bluesy opening guitar licks of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” which allowed Hidalgo to blow away any lingering cobwebs with a burning guitar solo, followed by Rosas taking a turn on lead, before the entire band came together around the classic rocker’s simmering bass riff which turned the temperature up significantly. Then the veteran Latin rockers were joined by opening act Gabe Dixon on piano, and Susan Tedeschi stepped to the mic to sing lead on the R&B classic, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” Hidalgo took a moving guitar solo, followed by Dixon and Berlin, this time on an alto sax, the two Lobos singers offering backing harmonies to Tedeschi’s soulful lead vocals. After a brief moment to move around microphones, Tedeschi and Dixon were replaced by her husband Derek Trucks, with the three members of the joining Berlin on the right side of the stage. With everyone in place, Hidalgo tore into the opening, fast, bluesy guitar riffs of “Mas Y Mas,” a Latin rock workout that was made all the stronger by the fabulous horns playing together at the end of each solo section. Once Hidalgo had done his magic, trombone player Elizabeth Lea played a fun, jazz-tinged solo, followed by Ephraim Owens on trumpet, and Williams on soprano sax, and then Trucks gave an energetic tutorial on electric slide guitar, a moving display of why many guitar fans are saying that he’s one of the best, if not the very best, of his generation. The lengthy jam came to a glorious conclusion as the band turned it’s attention to Ortiz who brought things to a climax with an amazing workout on his drum kit. As the lights came up and people made their way out into the light rain in search of relief and refreshments there were knowing smiles on every face, as nearly full venue collectively realized the headliner had yet to take the stage.
It’s an impressive undertaking merely getting the full Tedeschi Trucks band onto the stage, the two name-holders front and center with guitars and amps, their two drummers, bass player and keyboard player which includes a Hammond organ and large Leslie cabinet for that trademarked spinning speaker sound, plus a three-piece horn section, and three additional vocalists… to say a little, it’s a lot. But even more impressive is the sense of sharing and an observable interest in celebrating the talents of the entire collective, rather than viewing the unnamed side-players as merely there to back up and support the duo up front, there’s an effort to make sure everyone gets a moment in the spotlight. Oh, there’s no doubt that Trucks has his hands on the conductor’s baton, with obvious nods to his wife and vocalist Tedeschi, but it’s remarkable in an often ego-focused industry to see a genuine expression of artistic democracy. And the thing worth noting is that it works, while still delivering all the goodies you have come to expect from these two very talented artists.
Everything and everybody in place, the band dove into the R&B rave up, “Do I Look Worried,” taking in just a bit faster than their original recording, Tedeschi’s voice strong and soulful right from the start, although the band paused at the appropriate moment, slowing things down to allow for Trucks first slide solo of the evening to heat up like the album version, revealing that he was already playing fast and hot after warming up with Hidalgo in the Los Lobos set. Eager to keep things moving, before the applause even silenced, he started playing the fast rhythm intro to the title track from Made Up Mind, a song that has appeared in several recent TTB setlists, even though this band is notorious for changing out songs from one night to the next.
The annoying, competitive side of my brain suspects that perhaps the fact that Bonnie Raitt is getting serious airplay for her own song with the same name. Tedeschi, twenty years younger than the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame singer and slide guitarist, has often been compared to Raitt, and the two songs are different even though there’s some similarity in the melody around those words in the title. Tedeschi and Trucks wrote and recorded their song in ’13, and the slower, bluesier song that Raitt has on the radio right now was written by a pair of Canadian brothers in ’15. Nevertheless, Trucks led their big band through a big blow-out version of their song, the horns punching out their accents, Dixon playing up the funky feel soloing on a Korg synthesizer, Trucks delivering another rip-roaring slide solo, and Tedeschi singing out with soul backing vocals. When she got to the part about “I’m going higher,” she handed over the screaming lead vocal part to Mark Rivers, a tenor eager to vamp on his high range, while the other singers added a refrain that “you will not keep me down,” until Trucks and Tedeschi brought the song back around to its original hook and brought it to a wailing, raucous conclusion. The audience was on their feet, and we were only two songs in.
Staying with that same 2013 release, Trucks slowed it down for the nearly churchy horn led “It’s So Heavy,” the warm organ sound, the vocal choir supportive as Tedeschi sings that “I’ve got to let go” of life’s pains and woes, almost a prayer of longing. They followed that with a song deep in the underlying spirituality at work in their new summer mega-album project – I Am the Moon, which is being released as four EP’s, one each month – “Circles ‘Round the Sun,” from the first EP, subtitled I. Crescent. The song builds around some Eastern world music influences and a percussive center that included Los Lobos drummer Ortiz on congas, to a series of chanting background vocals that come together with Tedeschi’s lead vocal to chant “Can you tell me where to go, go, go?/I’m lost I can’t find my way home, home, home/Wrap a circle around the sun, oh, oh, oh,” As Tedeschi sings about walking towards the gray the song’s structure began to break up around the low jazzy simmering of the horns, including a solo from sax player Williams, until the whole thing deconstructed and dissolved as the recorded voice of folk artist Eddie Owens Martin – or St. EOM, one of the inspirations for the underlying art and spirit of this new collection of music – about the pattern, the design at work in art that is attuned with nature. Then, as Tedeschi and the other vocalists and horn players left the stage, Trucks led the remaining instrumentalists into the new instrumental that closes out that first EP, “Pasaquan.”
As I suggest in my review, this song appears to sum up where Trucks is as a musician after playing for decades with the tradition and expectations of the Allman Bros. Band, and now leading his own band. The guitarist whose primary instrument has been a Gibson SG, moved to what looked to be a cherry red Gibson ES-335 semi-hollow body electric. The song begins simmering around the vibration of his two drummers’ cymbals, Issac Eady and Tyler Greenwell working together much the same as Derek’s uncle Butch Trucks played for decades alongside Jaimoe Johanson. Then with the addition of Latin congas by Ortiz, Trucks initiated the song’s primary melody around which the long instrumental jam “Pasaquan” would be built. Trucks took a lengthy solo as bassist Brandon Boone and the rest fell into the groove, noticeably playing without a slide, but still delivering a sound very familiar to his fans. Dixon followed with a moving Hammond solo, spinning that Leslie in emotional bursts of sound, and the three percussionists took an extended breakdown, with appropriate swells and robust rhythms0 until finally, some 15 minutes or so in, Trucks returned to that initial melodic signature run, bringing the song back together and closing it down. If they were playing two sets on this night, this is where they’d have taken a break.
While the crowd was on its feet still applauding, Tedeschi and the rest of the band returned to the stage along with Los Lobos’ guitarist David Hidalgo, and Conrad Lorenzo took over on bass, as they moved into the bluesy funk of “Get Out of My Life, Woman,” a song written by Allen Toussaint. Given the anti-woman lyric, Tedeschi played rhythm guitar on her Les Paul, leaving the lead vocal to Mike Mattison, who got strong harmony support from Alecia Chakour. Hidalgo led with a strong, long, smokin’ solo right from the start, followed by Dixon again on organ, and another fun trombone solo from Lea, until she was joined by the other horns. Lorenzo left, and Louie Perez came on for the Derek & the Dominoes cover, “Keep On Growing,’ with Trucks leaning into the Duane Allman slide solo in this Clapton track from his namesake band, Tedeschi singing lead, with Mattison taking a verse as well. Then in an act of generosity and inclusion that was quite moving to watch, Trucks walked in front of Hidalgo and his wife to engage Perez, the one-time Los Lobos drummer who now has a somewhat subdued role playing rhythm guitar while Hidalgo and Rosas, both seasoned guitarists dominate. Trucks encouraged and played along as Perez worked his way up the fretboard, and the two created a fun, kind moment of musical nurture that had Hidalgo smiling like the proud grandfather he actually is.
Then the time with guest players behind them, Tedeschi and Trucks dug into a fun, blues classic that I’ve always associated with B.B. King, “How Blue Can You Get?” It was a rip-roaring rockin’ blues with horns wailing, as she sang those hilarious vintage lines, “I took you to my penthouse, you said it was a shack/I gave you seven children, and now you want to give them back.” But more surprising, but Tedeschi not only delivered the wailing blues vocal, she also took a guitar solo that rocked the house, again with her husband nearby, encouraging her and offering support. Then the band turned back to their recent releases, offering up a slow, soulful reading of the ballad, “Hear My Dear,” the band chiming in, first Dixon with a Hammond solo, and Trucks playing over the vocal harmonies of the chorus. Steve Berlin brought his bari-sax to join the horn section for the New Orlean bounce of “Fall In,” which brought Mattison back down front to sing lead, with solo passed back and forth between Trucks and the horn players. Next was the final song left from the 5 song EP, I Am The Moon: I. Crescent, which starts off as a gentle ballad duet between Dixon and Tedeschi, but as is often the case built to a full blown rocker with yet another ripping, slide solo from Trucks.
And with that mood set, they went back for another rocking blues, again from the Made Up Mind album, with Tedeschi delivering in shout mode over the roar of guitars, with Williams playing alto sax for his solo before things built toward full-on jam mode, Trucks taking another smoking solo as the dual drummers were kicking the rhythm up in tension, until things quieted down to a simmer, Trucks now just tapping his strings for resonance. Then unexpectedly, Trucks’ seemingly aimless noodling around on his guitar kicked into the all too familiar guitar melody line from the Allman Bros.’ rockin’ blues classic, “Whipping Post.” Trucks has likely played that lick hundreds of times, but it felt all that fresh to the crowd in the Rose, leaning forward to hear each thing he played. Susan Tedeschi’s voice is an altogether different instrument than that of the late Gregg Allman, so she delivered those powerful words, “Good Lord, I feel like I’m dying,” with her own emphasis, and it worked keeping the full house on its feet, singing and dancing along, while Trucks’ emphasized all those screaming guitar lines, then after a long night of great music, the band left the stage.
Returning to encore, they served up the fun “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” originally served up by The Coasters, but was played at Woodstock by Joe Cocker’s band. Tedeschi sang a verse, then Mattison sang one, and Chakour sang another, then Dixon took a lovely Hammond solo, then Trucks directed the attention back to Lea for a trombone solo, then over to Owens on trumpet, before the leader of the band took the last great guitar solo of the evening, then Rivers sang lead on the final verse, the chorus reached an appropriate climax, and the music was over. As her band mates left the stage, Tedeschi sent their love and blessings out to the crowd that had gathered for this rich, full night of soul.