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Live Reviews

The Allman Brothers Band Live at The Beacon Theatre

By Published: April 3, 2005

The Allman Brothers radiated the confidence of band that knows exactly what they want to do and played with the authority of a group unafraid to test itself, its material or its audience.

The Allman Brothers Band
The Beacon Theatre
New York City
March 2005

It's a special pleasure to see The Allman Brothers Band more than one night for a number of reasons. If you're a fan, you can't get enough of the Brothers pure and simple. If you're new to the group, and they play to their capabilities, another evening with...helps you be sure you weren't imagining the first. And for all attendees of an Allmans concert, particularly during their annual run in NYC at The Beacon Theatre, you can be fairly sure you're not gong to get many repeated selections plus which, the chance of surprise runs high at these shows.

The Allman Brothers now use their spring dates in the Big Apple to test new songs, covers and arrangements for their dates later in the year during the summer swings and festival appearances as are happening this year. As the band took the stage the evening of the 17th after a night off during this year's ten-date run, they radiated the confidence of band that knows exactly what they want to do. They played with the authority of a group unafraid to test themselves, their material and their audience, confident as well the risks would pay off.

And pay off they did as ABB gave a hearty two-set performance brimming with intensity and ingenuity, all of which they parlayed this particular night, without including some of their most famous material—"Liz Reed," "Whipping Post," Mountain Jam"—usually used for their most exploratory improvisations. Instead, the septet built the momentum of the performance in such as way that virtually each individual in the band seemed to be its one and only star at various junctures during the evening.

Gregg Allman grabbed attention from the very start of the first selection "Done Somebody Wrong." The depth of emotion in his voice combined with the abandoned inflections he lent to his phrasing were startling to behold given his age, history, tenure with the band and, last but not least, the length of time he's been performing this tune (virtually the band's entire 35-plus year career). The singing by the namesake of the band wasn't much less memorable on "Wasted Words: or "Come and Go Blues," but only outshone in relative terms by the performance(s) of other members in the group: Bassist Oteil Burbridge, for instance, bounced the former tune up and down as if on a trampoline by his increasingly deep yet fluid runs (the sound improved dramatically in the first half-hour, even turning louder during the second set).

There is no overstating how guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks continue to astound. Alternately shimmering and shredding, the pair this evening displayed a dual empathy as musicians that's grown even since last year. They completed each others' phrases on "I Walk on Gilded Splinters" and, during the second set, ante'd up even further during "Key to the Highway. " In a remarkable showing of eminently healthy ego, neither Warren nor Derek tries to outplay the other but only ratchet up the intricacy of their solos, whether straight or in call?"and-response, in service of a song such as "Desdemona" (tellingly one of ABB's newer originals from 2003's Hittin' the Note CD. )

Like fire and ice, Haynes and Trucks represent opposite ends of the spectrum in their respective styles, but have learned to complement each other in an almost mystical manner which is no doubt why the new Allman instrumental, "Egypt," will become embroidered with more detail and more drama the more often the group plays it; in comparing the versions from just these two nights, the brothers are coming to play it with more panache each new performance.

By the time Warren wrung every possible ounce of feeling from his fretboard during his solo on "Rockin' Horse,"—hitting and holding one perfect note for almost twenty seconds to begin one solo— you had to wonder how The Allmans would end their second set and their Beacon show this evening, given heir penchant for near-overwhelming climaxes. Thus, "One Way Out," with guest trombonist Dick Griffin, was in keeping with their past in more than one respect: a reliably familiar tune to finish and thus place an indelible memory in their audiences mind, simultaneously including a collaborator in the mix, as is the wont during these stretches at the Beacon, to make that memory unique. Thus the final instrumental exchanges weren't the smoothest, at least on Griffin's part, but the wail Gregg let loose before the band slammed it to a close recalled his introductory vocal three hours previous---the circle will be unbroken, you might say.

While the impact of the Allman Brothers' musicianship was deceptively powerful Thursday night, it was all the more so March 18th because the presence of guests, while entertaining in its own right, muffled the force of ABB's own music that evening. Little Milton was affectionately introduced by Haynes, who had the blues hero participate on The Deep End Vol. 1, singing as he did this night "Soulshine." Yet the uplifting gospel-like atmosphere conjured up with Milton, as well as Susan Tedeschi, on vocals (and a hot guitar duel with Haynes), was nothing but a letdown from the intensity The Brothers built during the early part of their set this evening.

As if sensing the hunger of the early weekend audience, "Midnight Rider," "Trouble No More" and "Stand Back" launched the band with a vengeance. The audience responded in kind, to the point that, when Haynes led the gallop into "Hoochie Coochie Man," Gregg's autobiographical ballad "Old Before My Time" became the smoothest shift of gears. If you deleted the guest spot, went right to this picturesque reading of "Egypt," then directly on to the second set, this Friday show might've been one of the highlights of Beacon history.

As it turned out, the de rigueur acoustic set, only marked time despite including Gregg at the grand piano for "Oncoming Traffic," on acoustic guitar with Warren for a beautifully bittersweet reading of Jackson Browne's "These Days" (a welcome respite from "Melissa, especially now that song's appearing in a TV commercial) and another authentic blues duet between Haynes and Trucks that hearkened back to the undercurrent of blues from the night before. "Aint' Wastin' Time No More" will never sound old in the hands of this band, especially as it seemed this night a comment on their own performances; while the drum solo from the previous night preserved the integrity of Butch Trucks, Jaimoe and Marc Quinones by their usually savvy means of developing a rhythmic scheme then taking turns embellishing it, a percussion interval roughly half its length(its effect magnified by the lighting) during "Black- Heated Woman" acted as a catapult for the Brothers into an absolutely sublime version of "Mountain Jam" lasting approximately 25 minutes.

Eschewing the recent tendency to extend the piece by way of interweaving other tunes with the melodic motif of Donovan's song, this night Derek and Warren, and only to a slightly lesser extent, Burbridge during his truncated solo spotlight, probed more deeply into the sing-song quality of the melody, opening up its spacious potential dramatically, to the point that, rowdy as they might have been, there was a point two-thirds of the way through this piece where it seemed the audience was at rapt attention, hanging on every finely-devised note being ushered forth as the band sought to find every nuance possible in the tune. This was a "Mountain Jam" founding Brother Duane Allman would've been proud to be a part of, as no doubt would be true of the "Southbound' encore. Shorn of the horns that have adorned the song in recent years, the guitarists elevated the tune through the ringing tandem guitar playing at the center of the song

The Allman Brothers Band's 17th's show might've disappointed audience members who hadn't seem them before. Perhaps even some died-in-the-wool Peacheads who dote on the most famous tunes would've found the show wanting. But a fan who genuinely hopes to be surprised and satisfied in wholly different ways?"which is how the band is playing at this point?"could not help but come away with admiration for ABB in their minds and satisfaction for themselves in their hearts. That sensation would be harder to grasp after the show the following evening through no fault of The Brothers, their guests or the crowd (which was pointedly more rabid than the night of St Patty's Day...go figure).

The Allman Brothers did nothing truly spectacular these two nights a the Beacon, saving it all for the night of March 21st, when, joined by pianist Chuck Leavell, the group exhumed "Jessica" (from Brothers and Sisters and reintroduced "Little Martha" and brought back "Blue Sky" and "Les Brers in A Minor," foundations of Eat A Peach (perhaps foreshadowing the next ABB archival release?).

Some less than fluid transitions, slightly off time solos and obvious cues from on-stage conductor Haynes (who appeared agitated at missing lyrics for Little Milton) marked both nights, but the recollections of the prime ABB interplay and the echo of the sounds they conjured up will carry most attendees till this summer's outdoor shows: while the subdued acoustic sets may not withstand the onslaught of those party-minded, the fundamental power at the command of The Allman Brothers Band should carry the day if they anywhere nearly approximate what they did this spring of 2005 at The Beacon Theatre in New York City.

Read David Miller's review of the same show.

Photo Credit
Jeff Levere

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