On Sunday, June 7, the Wheels of Soul rolled through town and just kept going, one dazzling and dizzying guitar solo after drum solo after trumpet solo after the next. With a lineup stacked with some of our day’s heaviest-hitters of retro-revivalist rock and soul – the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and Doyle Bramhall II — it was a night so blissfully jammy that the curfew itself felt like a crime. If only those Wheels could have kept rolling all night.
Doyle Bramhall II opened the evening with a set of stalwart blues-rock numbers. Bramhall II and band’s style is to start with a straightforward blues line, chug along, and then burn it down with a fiery guitar solo, courtesy of Bramhall. On songs like “She’s Alright” and “Green Light Girl,” he didn’t reinvent any wheels but spruced and revved up old ones – classic rock that out-classes collaborater Clapton, with moments evocative even of Hendrix.
The Dap Kings came on next, opening with a pair of songs from The Dapettes, Jones’ backup singers Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan. Leading lady Sharon Jones followed, sparkling in a purple sequined dress, and the pint-sized performer packed more punch, more pizzazz, and more personality than the combined sum of hundreds of rockers half her age. Though I have never seen James Brown perform live, I imagine Jones – who has collaborated with the late soul-god’s daughters – channels a comparable level of fire. She shimmied, twisted, jerked, and boogaloo’d her way through a set of new hits and soul standards, from her own single “Stranger To My Happiness” to a pepped-up cover of “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Most memorably, on her song “Get Up and Get Out,” Jones recalled her struggles through cancer – “My hands, my feet, my whole body was very weak, I couldn’t move more than 10 feet,” she said. As she sashayed across the stage, declaring “I’m alive!” the true soul-survivor showed the Bowl her power to revive and inspire – the crowd lifted from their seats.
Epic is an overused word, but if one contemporary rock band were to rightfully wear it, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band might be the ones. Their set sprawled to the outer reaches, with each riff drawn out and stretched to its glorious maximum. “Idle Wind,” a mere four songs into the set, would have been a showstopper anywhere else, replete with an extended drum solo from the band’s not one, but two drummers – only to be followed by a cascading solo from Derek Trucks. Susan Tedeschi, her voice categorically somewhere between Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin, sang her heart out. So, too, did Maurice Brown’s trumpet sing, a brassy lyrebird flanked by an outstanding line of other wind instruments. The beautiful “Midnight In Harlem” seemed to emit its very own cooling breeze.
As Tedeschi and Trucks blew the candle out with a climactic guitar duel, it was clear that blues rock – a genre often declared dead – never died, nor may it ever. The Wheels of Soul bill, a night of retro revivalists, shows genres as timeless as blues, soul, and their progeny are as alive as those who choose to carry on the echo. With performers as spirited and talented as these, it will continue to live long and prosper – and surely will the memory of last night’s show, long after the wheels have rolled on.