The Wheels of Soul Tour Makes One Smooth Ride

"Wheels of Soul" Tour
Feat. Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Doyle Bramhall II
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
July 10, 2015

The idea behind the “Wheels of Soul” tour is a laudable one. Take three acts with similar (but not too dissimilar) fan bases, put them on the stage (sometimes with each other), and take the audience for a 3-and-a-half-hour ride steeped in rock, soul, blues, and funk — with a touch of raga and jazz. And it worked splendidly Friday at The Woodlands, the first stop of the summer tour’s second leg. It was a high-energy affair in which everything played was soul music. Not because of the genre, but because of the enthusiasm and depth could not be faked.

Headlining was the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the 11-piece (though 12-piece on Friday) ensemble led by husband/wife guitarists Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, with Tedeschi taking most of the gritty, blues-mama vocals. And while each had thriving solo and group careers before merging into this unit, now that Trucks has ended his 15-year “other” job as one of the guitarists in the Allman Brothers Band, all focus can be on this ensemble.

And what an ensemble it is. Culling the set list from their two studio albums (2011’s Revelator and 2013’s Made Up Mind), solo material, and choice covers, the band was a seamless unit, with each player getting his or her own chance to shine throughout the evening. Backup singer Mike Mattison was particularly effective on the old Derek Trucks Band track “Don’t Miss Me.”

Highlights included opener “There’s a Break In the Road” (which Tedeschi wailed on), “Made Up Mind,” the sad and sultry “Midnight In Harlem,” “I Pity the Fool” (possibly Tedeschi’s finest moment), and the raucous “The Storm,” which featured a lengthy Trucks solo. In fact, almost every time Trucks was featured — his Zen-like countenance calmly sliding the small glass bottle up and down the guitar neck, with fingers flecking across the bridge — he got an incredible audience response. And with a fuzzy, vibey, tone and a style so utterly unique, his quiet power seemed very substantive. By contrasts, Tedeschi’s more frenetic, stinging guitar work made a perfect counter balance.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings likely won the most new fans of the night with their retro-yet-current soul explosion that, like the package tours of yore, opened with a guitarist/hypeman (Binky Griptite) introducing a band instrumental and backup-singer showcase before the Main Event arrives. As someone who has never seen the tiny dynamo that is Sharon Jones live before, I can honestly say I was shocked. Shocked that the 59-year-old — resplendent in a shiny dress — strutted, danced, ran (not to mention Boogalooed, Jerked, Ponied, Funky Chickened, Twisted and Swam) for an hour.

Her stage patter for the set of originals (including material from their last record, Give the People What They Want) and covers by Gladys Knight were practiced. But her energy, vocal prowess, and enthusiasm seemed otherworldly as she altered between fast and slow material. Highlights here included “She Ain’t a Child No More” (about a daughter living with a drunken mother), “Stranger to My Happiness” and “100 Days, 100 Nights.”

Jones also got personal in introducing the song “Get Up and Get Out.” While ostensibly about a man, she said it’s now it’s about a different situation. In 2013, she was diagnosed with bile-duct cancer just after finishing Give the People What They Want. After invasive surgery and grueling chemo sessions, she is now free of the disease, and thankful every day.

“I perform every show as if it were my last, because it may be my last. I give you my all,” she said. And no one in the audience — especially that older guy in the Allman Brothers Band T-shirt who stood up and danced for her entire set — would argue.

Opening the show was Doyle Bramhall II. His guttural, deep, psychedelic blues and world music are worth a show in its own — though he made a somewhat surly impression. He and Trucks were both guitarists for none other than Eric Clapton on the same tour, and he’s currently working on a fourth solo album. Sadly, the short set meant no time for any material from the native Texan’s much-lauded Arc Angels band and single record. “Living in a Dream” would have killed.

Like an old Marvel Comics meeting of two supergroups, the evening ended with 20-plus musicians onstage at the same time for a buoyant, celebratory string of covers. The TTB frequently play covers, but always put a unique spin on them. The Box Tops' '60s hit “The Letter” must be a relatively new addition, because Tedeschi and Jones (both wearing glasses) occasionally read from lyrics on a music stand, wailing and counter-wailing against each other.

It was a spirit-lifting, joyous end to the entire show. And hopefully, the wheels will keep turning for all three acts for a long time.

Personal Bias: Great admirer of both Tedeschi and Trucks as solo acts, and even moreso that they’ve combined forces. It just fits.

The Crowd: Surprisingly older than I expected – and surprisingly sparse, with probably less than 1/3 of the seats filled. Admittedly, Houston is not a stronghold for these acts. But, as a down-to-earth and wholly nonworried Derek Trucks said after the show, “it just takes time to build an audience.”

Overheard In the Crowd: “There’s too much talent on that one stage.”

Random Notebook Dump: “Where’s Saunders?” (the TTB’s singing trombonist, Saunders Sermons, seems to have been replaced on this tour by an older, white, female player decked out in tie-dye who danced and grooved throughout the set).

SET LIST (Tedeschi Trucks Band)
There’s a Break in the Road (Betty Harris cover)
Do I Look Worried?
Made Up Mind
Don’t Miss Me (Derek Trucks Band cover)
Midnight in Harlem
Bound for Glory/Get Out of My Life Woman/Bound for Glory
More & More (Little Milton cover)
I Pity the Fool (Bobby “Blue” Bland cover)
Idle Wind
The Storm

ENCORE (with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings)
The Letter (Box Tops cover)
Tell Mama (Etta James cover)
Sing A Simple Song/I Wanna Take You Higher (Sly and the Family Stone cover)
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero