Monday night’s sky was full of stars and clarity, not only in regards to weather, but also what was to come for those attending an evening on The Wheels of Soul Tour. The night was a reschedule from an August date postponed due electrical storms. The great weather brought relief to many who were returning to the Sandia Casino Amphitheater from the cancelled show in August. By far, one of the hottest tours of the summer was the Wheels of Soul Tour in its second incarnation. This powerhouse tour de force consisted of the North Mississippi All-Stars, Los Lobos, and The Tedeschi Trucks Band. A characteristic of what has made these shows unique is the innumerable sit-ins and band mash-ups that occur on a nightly basis, set after set, seeing all sorts of collaborations, not only by the main names of each band, but also by the auxiliary players of the groups.
As standard for the tour, the show opened with North Mississippi All-Stars. This sibling based, driving trio presented with all the energy one would expect from a band with the term “All-Star” in its name. The group, Luther and Cody Dickinson on guitar and drums, and the deep end foundation of Danielle Nicole on bass. They wasted no time jumping right in for the eager crowd. Their 12-song set featured many blues standards infused with their own brand of improvisation and verve, notable enough that the legends that penned the tunes would have been proud.
Keeping true to their roots, the band covered such tunes as R.L. Burnside’ s “ Po Black Maddie”, Son House’ s “Death Letter Blues”, Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin” and “Got My Mojo Workin”, Buddy Guy’ s “Baby Please Don’ t Leave Me”, T-Bone Walker’ s “Mean Old World”, and Jimi Hendrix’ s “Hear My Train A Comin”. As there were many deadheads in the crowd, remarkable excitement and warm receptions were detected at the performance of Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too” and the traditional “Deep Elem Blues”.
The sit-ins began mid-set, starting off with TTB vocalist Alecia Chakour lead vocals on Levon Helm’ s “Move Along Train”. Following this blues rocker, the remaining back up singers of TTB, Mark Mattison and Mark Rivers, joined the band with Chakour on Mississippi Fred McDowell’ s “Back Back Train”. The end of the set welcomed both Susan Tedeschi and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo to lend guitar duties on “Deep Elem Blues”, “Mean Old World”, “Got My Mojo Workin”, and “Hear My Train A Comin”. The entire set was full of smiles and joyous exchanges, both onstage and off. The chemistry between the “D” brothers and Sistah Nicole is inspiring and magical. From the solid beat of the skins by Cody, the rambunctious flailing of Nicole’ s moves while being able to lay down consistent grooves and growling vocals, and the other-worldly slide work by Luther, the product of this southern equation shows that this group is as much a headliner as anyone else on the bill. It is often said that the opener for many shows leaves much to be desired, but in the case of the NMA, their exit left many only with the desire for more. With a minimal change out of equipment, Los Lobos took the stage to the raucous welcoming of the audience.
Being a local favorite for decades, the crowd’s eruption was still audible as they began their first tune. This group’s ability to effortlessly swing from Latin-infused themes to classic rhythm and blues progressions and everything in between makes them not only danceable, but intoxicating and entertaining. The highlights of the set were incredible and filled with notes that legends are made of. The first song of the evening was one of the group’ s more popular songs, “Mas Y Mas”, and featured accompaniment by Derek Trucks, TTB trumpeter Ephraim Owens, and TTB flautist, Kofi Burbidge. This salsa flavored instrumental clocked in at 14+ minutes and solos were given over to the onstage guests with equal latitude of that of the core members. The horn exchanges between Owens, Burbidge, and Los Lobos’ saxophonist, Steve Berlin, were tasteful and furious and built on each other until the release of the crescendo, leaving just as many giggling on stage as those watching. Trucks’ opportunity was not wasted either and saw encouragement by Cesar Romero to take the lead, adding a stringed complementary exchange equal to that of the preceding brass duel. Another highlight from the set was a cover of Marvin Gaye’ s “What’s Going On”. Tedeschi was employed for lead vocals and was joined by the vocal component from TTB. The piece was soulful and true to the original. Steve Berlin of Los Lobos traded duties of keys and saxophone, nailing both effortlessly. The band pulled out Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” as one of their closing tunes. With help from Trucks, they took this number over the top and really stretched it out. As the mid-section began to diminish, the expectation was a return for the last stanza of lyrics, but instead the band shifted the tune into The Rascals “Good Lovin’”, exciting the crowd, both deadheads and 60’ s rock lovers alike.
There was no shortage of rocking on this piece or the band encouraging the audience to sing along. Again, the band and guests seemed to experiencing as much exhilaration as the people laid out in front of them, shaking their bones. The energy continued to build and at the point that the climax seemed like it could be taken no further, the band dropped right back into “La Bamba”, closing the set with satiated, exhausted exaltation.
Before The Tedeschi Trucks Band took the stage, the promoter, John Nichols, came out and addressed the audience. He wanted to let everyone know that without the compassion and integrity of the bands, this evening would not have been such a great success. He added that the evening’s show was actually turned into a fundraiser by the groups to contribute to a local charity, New Day, which aids in getting teens off of the street, back into education, and re-inspiring their potential for the future. This announcement of humanity put a smile on many in the sea of faces and when Nichols finally said,”……and would you please welcome…….”, the entire venue responded with such a long and deafening salute that it was only the opening chords of the TTB original “Let Me Get By” that finally capped the revel as the third and final set took off. This energetic, bluesy gospel number was prolonged and gave all sections the ability to show for the crowd. Burbidge’ s Leslie solo stood out and received a round of rousing upon completion.
Tedeschi vocals, accompanied by the backup singers, added to the grit of the number. “Laugh About It” was up next and showcased more of Tedeschi’ s control in the vocal department. This beautiful, laid back piece is uplifting and warm. “Don’ t Know What It Means” showed that the front woman of this band has pipes that don’t bend or tire easily. This funky tune had great accents from the horn section, including a voracious solo by TTB saxophonist Kebbi Williams, who once he started blowing notes didn’ t stop, clutching his horn and shaking it. A fantastic rendition of Clapton’s “Keep On Growing”was delivered next. Its punchy structure gave way to accentuated beats of enthusiasm, both rhythmically and melodically. Lee Dorsey’s “Get Out of My Life Woman” was up next and as Tedeschi stepped away from the mic, as TTB’ s Mike Mattison took center stage to lead the band through this number.
What guitar inspired night would be complete without a number from the late Stevie Ray Vaughn? “The Sky is Crying” bought out the first sit-in of the TTB set, seeing the return of Cesar Romero. His exchanges with both Tedeschi and Trucks reinforced the fact that this man is not pigeonholed to any genre, nor his comfort or command diminished outside of his usual band members. “Right On Time”, a dark, speak-easy tune, gave rise to the spotlight of another outstanding member of the TTB horn section. Elizabeth Lea let loose on the trombone, as her swollen cheeks blew grit with every line, accompanied by great slide work and complement by both Trucks and Tedeschi.
Welcoming Luther Dickinson to the stage, the band delivered a double punch of goodness with “I Want More” and Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice”. The interplay in call and response fashion and straight ahead searing leads between Dickinson and Trucks brought obvious laughter between the two string marauders, as both appeared impressed and motivated by each other, fueling the fire of brilliance. B.B. King’s, “ How Blue Can You Get?” waltzed out of the gate in true blues fashion and gave all the dancers in the hall the opportunity to catch their breaths and witness in genuine spectator fashion the talent of the band. This number, again, showcased the front lady’ s ability to soulfully present herself on guitar and verse. The set closer came in the form of another Clapton rocker, “Had To Cry Today” and saw the return of Hidalgo to the stage. This tune has both the complements of hard-driving, distorted chords and softer, melodic vocal sections. The jam, again, seemed unending and spiraled higher and higher with every measure and continued to grab everyone’s attention.
With a curfew looming, the band returned to the stage for their final piece on this epic excursion. Bob Dylan’ s, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” was an even-keeled choice that with its lightness and smooth tempo gave everyone on stage the ability to shine one more time. The fact that this was a reschedule instead of a cancellation and that all three bands returned to the Land of Enchantment, despite that the formal tour had ended weeks ago, speaks volumes about these players and their level of commitment to their fans and the overtly obvious enjoyment they receive playing together, demonstrated by displays of affection visible on stage. All performers, whether guest or host on stage, leaves every turn with toes intact and the girth that everyone receives feels more like family than fame. The proof is in the pudding and the universe willing, if the Wheels of Soul takes on another formation, anyone and everyone should witness this amazing ensemble of talented performers.