The whole concept of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, based upon the late 1960s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour featuring Joe Cocker, is musical variety and an ever evolving collection of topflight musicians, performing in a variety of styles and combinations.
In that sense this summer's “Wheels of Soul Tour” is an apt descendant of that legendary crew from 50 years ago, even expanding the concept to include two more like-minded bands. Sunday the TTB, featuring Norwell's own Susan Tedeschi and husband Derek Trucks, brought their dozen-piece band and the new tour to The Xfinity Center in Mansfield, for nearly four hours of music.
The concert, a collaboration of the Mass Music & Arts Society in Mansfield and Live Nation’s Xfinity Center, was a fundraiser for the new MMAS Arts Center at Great Woods.
It was obvious most of the approximately 10,000 fans were there for the TTB, and they were rewarded with a fiery one hour, 40-minute set from the headliners to top off the night, followed by an unannounced fireworks show behind the venue. Earlier in the evening, the Drive-By Truckers played an hour's worth of their Southern rock/Americana, and Marcus King and his sextet played a scorching half hour set of their rock 'n' soul.
It seemed like the TTB may have erred when they started their set with a 10-minute romp through Derek and the Dominoes' “(Anyday) Anyway,” because that is such a perfect vehicle for the 12-piece group, and was done with such passion and fire, it was difficult to believe they could ever top it. But the TTB is all about virtuosity and the kind of natural charisma that makes such dazzling performances par for the course. In that first song, Mike Mattison shared vocal duties with Tedeschi, and the set would follow that pattern, where Mattison sang some vocals with Tedeschi's help, and she did the lead vocals on others.
As most local fans probably know, the dozen members of the band include, besides Tedeschi, Trucks and Mattison, vocalists Mark Rivers and Amherst native Alecia Chakour, drummers J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell, bassist and Foxboro native Tim LeFebvre, keyboardist Kofi Burbridge, and the horn section of Elizabeth Lea on trombone, Kebbi Williams on saxophone, and Ephraim Owens on trumpet. With many of set's 14 songs extended, every member of the band got their spotlight time, most of them with solos of jaw-dropping skill and melodicism.
An early favorite was the rapid-fire version of “Get What You Deserve,” a tune from the songbook of the old Derek Trucks Band, sung by Mattison, and with some of Trucks' more brain-curdling slide guitar runs. A song a bit later shifted into a lengthy Trucks exploration, where he slowed the melody down and deconstructed it, delving into some John Coltrane-like harmonic areas, before bringing it back to a fiery rock finish, as Tedeschi intoned ethereal, wordless vocal tones.
Right after that, a gentle Trucks melody led into a squalling horn section climax, and as the dust cleared from that little side trip, Tedeschi began a marvelous version of their easy-loping soul ballad, Midnight in Harlem.” That was a spot to appreciate her remarkable control of nuance and emotive colors, but moments later she reached back into the songbook for an old gem. Noting it was a song she'd once sung “around town here,” Tedeschi launched into her typically killer charge through Ruth Brown's 1952 r&b hit, “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” That rockin' blues was always a staple of her set when Tedeschi was playing seemingly every club south of Boston, and many in the crowd were no doubt thrilled to hear it again. (Tedeschi did wonder if Brown wrote it herself: actually Herbert Lance and Johnny Wallace wrote the tune.)
“Made Up Mind” is one of the TTB's most popular songs and Sunday's rendition was another high point, both for Tedeschi's gritty vocal and the enervating guitar lines laid down by Trucks. A nice surprise on the setlist was the cover of Bob Dylan's “Going, Going, Gone,” from way back on his 1974 “Planet Waves” album, and the TTB turned it into a slow soul ballad that was a terrific showcase for Tedeschi's voice and the backup vocal trio.
One of the night's biggest vocal showcases was “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” as both Tedeschi and Mattison belted it out on the band's brish treatment, but then Chakour and Rivers did a spine-tingling call and response segment that extended the tune another five minutes, turning the venue into something like a revival meeting.
The TTB's encore segment ended in a blaze of funk and mind-blowing solos, as they invited the Marcus King Band up to augment them, and then wailed through a couple of classics from Sly and the Family Stone. “Sing A Simple Song” was hot enough, with incendiary solos moving from the horns to keyboards, to a Burbridge flute solo, and then morphing into “I Want to take You Higher” as Trucks and King engaged in a friendly guitar duel. It is indicative of the attitude and humility of the whole TTB that Trucks held back and let the 22-year old King deliver the hottest solo, and as the whole band cranked it up for the final choruses, the night ended in that sudden fireworks display.
The Drive-By Truckers specialize in songs written about their part of the country in the styles endemic to it, Southern rock, rhythm and blues and Americana. In their early years many of their story-songs reflected their Southern lives, often in comically Gothic situations. More recently their songs have examined the whole country and sought to figure out what it means, and so if that tone has perhaps changed to more tragicomic fare. The Truckers' 13-song set included samples from throughout their career, along with a couple new tunes, and perhaps enticed a few new fans to check them out, but the jumping around between eras made for a bit of an uneven flow.
The subtle, acoustic-centered take on “Guns of Umpqua,” from their most recent album, 2016's “American Band,” was a lilting ballad treatment, and the tune is singer Patterson Hood's musing on a school shooting at an Oregon community college. The harder driving “Ramon Cassiano,” from the same album, is sort of an allegory on the immigration problem, filtered through the tale of a murdered border agent in 1931, and its sheer rocking power, as both Hood and Mike Cooley crafted blistering leads, provoked a bigger audience reaction.
The Marcus King Band has two albums out already and another EP about to drop, and the singer/guitarist is obviously a talent to watch. Some wise guys might term their sound neo-Allman Brothers Band, but it is actually much further into a soul direction than that. King's tenor/baritone howl was particularly expressive on a mid-set number that sounded like it should be called “Circle of Love,” and his guitar leads were potent throughout. But one of his later tunes relied too much on that vocal howl, when a bit of moderation would've been twice as effective.