The Allman Brothers Band hit a creative peak in 2003 with their first studio album in nine years, Hittin' the Note, and a spectacular extended run at The Beacon Theater in New York city. Culminating in September of 2004 with a brilliant three-night stay at the Fox Theatre back home in Georgia, the next year's worth of tours found ABB offering constant surprise in the form of songs choices, guest musicians and a connection to the band's collective past that invigorated the entire group.
Yet, you could sense this wave of inspiration cresting during this spring's appearances at the Beacon and while the shows of this summer's tour have all been memorable in their own way, there is a palpable sense ABB stands at yet another crossroads in a storied career. The highpoints of this season's roadwork, however, suggest The Brothers are more than up to the daunting task of reinventing themselves yet again.
Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester NH July 9th
The recent creative resurgence of The Allman Brothers Band has resulted in greater demand for the band, so their July 9th appearance in Manchester NH occurred in the early leg of their summer tour 2005. The shows of the next two months follow the annual run at the Beacon Theater in NY plus assorted dates later in the spring, including their own Wanee Festival in Florida, plus co-bills with Lynyrd Skynyrd to happen in the fall.
But there were no signs of fatigue on the part of the septet this Saturday. Nor any evidence of ennui either, despite a half capacity crowd at the cookie cutter arena of glass and steel. After a slightly perfunctory opening of "You Don't Love Me, and a pair of miscues on vocal by Gregg Allman, The Brothers kicked into high gear on Dr. John's "I Walk on Gilded Splinters, where Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes engaged in a guitar dialogue consisting of entire paragraphs not just phrases.
A more conventional call and response comprised the intro to Muddy Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man, sung by Haynes (as a homage to original ABB bassist Berry Oakley) in one of his few spotlights of the show; the leader of Gov't Mule continues to act as bandleader on stage for the Brothers, but this night deferred to his comrade Allman and his fretboard partner Trucks. The latter two generated another set of intense moments on "Stormy Monday, " where Gregg alternately caterwauled and crooned the vocal, inspiring Trucks to (literally) step up and play an incendiary solo to match the vocal intensity.
The final forty-five minutes of the set was comprised of a series of truly sublime segues. "Midnight Rider is usually a set piece for The Allman Brothers and the transition from Warren's countrified solo into harmony with Trucks was typically stellar.... but then the band insinuated itself into "Dreams, (the very first original song th young Allman brought to the band in '69), through the shadowy atmosphere of which Derek cut a swath with a solo as brilliant as he is likely to play.
Riding out the languorous rhythm of this song, seemingly random rhythm and melody lines morphed into "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, where Warren stepped up here as he did so rarely in the evening (his slide solo on "Statesboro Blues notwithstanding, as he demonstrated on that signature tune how he's learned the nuance of the technique); Haynes tendered a corrosive solo that set the stage for the drums interlude, where nary a beat was wasted, after which Oteil's bass segment had the serene tenor of a recital. This was an exercise in extended dynamics the likes of which most bands won't attempt, much less render successfully, and it qualified as a tour de force.
Tweeter Center For the Performing Arts, Mansfield, MA, August 20th