The 3rd edition of Tedeschi Trucks Band‘s summer bonanza know as the Wheels of Soul rolled through Rochester, a city that has been lucky enough to have hosted the tour all three years. This year, as last, Highland Bowl, the criminally underused natural amphitheater right in the city, served as the venue.
Classic blues rock trio, and Jefferson Airplane offshoot, Hot Tuna brought their “electric” version to kick things off. Running through a set of oldies but goodies, the band found plenty of room for rocking out. The crowd, near capacity at showtime, was raring to go from the start and these boys certainly satisfied. Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen played right to the local crowd’s hearts, “People say to me, Rochester? Isn’t it bleak up there? Not today it ain’t!” It was sunny and 72, quite literally, so he wasn’t lying. Kaukonen ground out some gritty guitar action on most every tune, but in the closing “Funky #7,” bassist Jack Casady took the reins blasting fuzzy bass bombs in a massive set sendoff. Legends in their own right, if they’re opening on a three-band bill it must be quite a bill. And, of course, it was!
The Wood Brothers were up next. It started eerily with bassist Chris Wood bowing his upright while bending the strings with a stick, creating a cool Theremin-like sound. “You give me chills when you sing so sweet,” sang guitarist Oliver Wood on the opening “Stumbled In.” Their sweet tooth would continue to show throughout the set. “I just heard National Chocolate Day was yesterday. We have a song for that.” he exclaimed before kicking into “Chocolate On My Tongue.” Then later they were baking some “Shoofly Pie.” Then the band invited Susan Tedeschi to sing on “Never and Always.” Talk about sweet! It would be the first of many sit-ins on the night. Chris Wood didn’t pick up his electric bass during their short set, but he did do some wild dancing, both with his acoustic bass, on “Snake Eyes,” and solo, all over the stage on the set closing “One More Day.” When Oliver introduced the band members, dancing was on his brother Chris’ list of instruments. Is dancing an instrument? One issue with such a fantastic lineup, the sets all felt too short. The Wood Brothers seemed to be leaving the stage just as they were getting going.
Tedeschi Trucks Band took the stage and immediately asked, “Are You Ready?” The crowd, fully up and dancing for the first time of the evening, answered with a resounding “Yes!” before the band quickly jumped into “Made Up Mind.” After two straight trios, the twelve-man rightly seemed enormous. They have amassed a monster of a band with enough talent to power multiple smaller bands. They are the Wall of Sound of bands. They are incredibly tight, stopping on a dime, morphing from song to song, jam to jam, following guitarist Derek Trucks through every masterful and adventurous solo, expanding and contracting through the setlist like a well-oiled machine.
Somehow, in about 90 minutes time, they also managed to ensure every member got it’s day in the sun without it feeling like a round robin of solos. A free form fusion-y breakdown in “Don’t Know What It Means” featured incredible sax work by Kebbi Williams and low end wizardry by bassist Tim Lefebvre. Trumpeter Ephraim Owens got his turn in a funky jam during “I Wish I Knew,” which also featured Alecia Chakour and Mark Rivers trading vocal solos. Of course longtime Trucks vocalist Mike Mattison took the lead vocals from Susan Tedeschi on a few numbers, including a ripping take on the Derek and the Dominoes classic, “Anyday.”
Toward the end of the show the band received even more players. All three Wood Brothers sat in for the band’s debut of the Rolling Stone’s “Sweet Virginia.” Oliver Wood and Tedeschi shared vocal duties while Chris Wood replaced Lefebvre on bass. Immediately following, Hot Tuna came on stage for their turn, this time to help on a cover of the blues classic “The Sky Is Crying.” Lefebvre and Casady shared bass duties, eyeing each other from across the stage, while Kaukonen and Trucks jawed with a tangle of blues licks.
The set once again seemed to end way too early. But the final band had the advantage of coming out for an encore. And the Tedeschi Trucks Band saved the best for last. If you were there to see Derek Trucks play guitar, you got what you paid for in the encore alone, so hopefully you stayed until the end. Trucks fired off some impossibly quick notes and blazed onward and upward from there. Eventually he came back down to earth, only to arrive at heavy teases of the Allman Brothers “Les Brers,” which the rest of the band picked up for a short jam. A one-song near fifteen minute encore sated the excited crowd. As the show came to a close, a full moon emerged over the tree line to guide everyone home after a smoking night in the Highland Bowl.
Living Just For You, Sea Child, I Can’t Be Satisfied, Come Back Baby, Water Song, Funky #7
The Wood Brothers
Stumbled In, Tried and Tempted, Chocolate On My Tongue, Snake Eyes, Keep Me Around, Shoofly Pie, Never and Always*, One More Day
* with Susan Tedeschi on vocals
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Are You Ready > Made Up Mind, Don’t Know What It Means, Anyday, Midnight in Harlem, Get Outta My Life Woman, Let Me Get By, Sweet Virginia*, The Sky Is Crying**, I Wish I Knew E: I Want More
*with Chris Wood on bass, Oliver Wood on guitar and vocals, Jano Rix on keys
**with Jorma Kaukonen on guitar, Jack Casady on bass