The Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon Theatre
The Beacon Theatre
New York City
The Allman Brothers Band once again set up camp at New York's Beacon Theatre for nine shows in the past two weeks in what has become an annual rite of passage. The Beacon has become a home away from home for the southern-oriented blues-rockers, and this year's run was no different. The homely New York crowd spurs the Allmans to new heights, dusting the cobwebs off of near-forgotten classics and venturing into new, uncharted territory. The theme of this year's run was family. In what developed into almost a celebration of this band's great legacy, they returned to their roots as an amalgam of family and friends new and old graced the stage in more ways than one.
Tight ensemble playing has become a fixture in the band's new, jazzier incarnation comprising Gregg Allman (keyboards, vocals), Butch Trucks (drums), Jaimoe (drums), Marc Quinones (percussion), Warren Haynes (guitar, vocals), Derek Trucks (guitar), and Oteil Burbridge (bass). The run's opening show on March 10 gave this avid fan a glimpse of the glory that was to follow in its latter stages.
As the lights went down at the Beacon, the tension in the theater was evident. What would they open the run with? Something new? The roar was deafening as Gregg Allman and the rest of the band meandered their way onto the stage, tuning their respective instruments.
After a few minutes, the band broke into "Sailin' 'Cross the Devil's Sea," which hadn't been played since 2001. The haunting riff of the song kicked the show into gear immediately. Upon completion, Allman switched to the piano and pounded out the first notes of the classic "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" off Eat A Peach. 30 years later, Allman's vocals were as poignant as ever, and this song gave both Trucks and Haynes their first extended solo space of the night. Trucks built his solo up nicely, reaching a climax only to come crashing down without warning. Haynes took a more wistful approach, showing the influence of Dickey Betts, the departed ABB guitarist who originally put his stamp on the tune.
After renditions of the New Orleans-style "I Walk On Gilded Splinters" and Haynes' "Worried Down With the Blues" came the first surprise of the night. The band broke into a new instrumental, preliminarily dubbed "Egypt." Written by Burbridge, the song had a jazzy, Santana-ish feel, allowing both guitarists to strut their stuff. The highlight of the song was Trucks' solo. He took it far out into space, while the rhythm section kept the song firmly on the ground. The funky "Stand Back" was next, with Burbridge's bass laying down the groove. "Rocking Horse" and "You Don't Love Me" ended the set, with the latter giving Burbridge a chance to lead.
After a relatively short break, Allman walked out to the grand piano that had been set up midstage and proceeded to play beautiful renditions of "Oncoming Traffic" and "Delta Blue." One couldn't help but be reminded of Ray Charles. Allman's unique vocals were those of a bluesman who has paid his dues, and both songs were gutwrenchingly played. After a terse "thank you," Allman picked up his acoustic guitar and Haynes walked out with his. In introducing Jackson Browne's "These Days," Allman murmured, "This is a song by an old friend of mine. Well he's not old and I'm not old but our friendship's old." With Haynes on backing vocals and lead guitar, the duo produced what was the highlight of the night. Whatever you think about the Allman Brothers Band, they bring soul and emotion to every note played. The acoustic set continued with Haynes and Trucks interpreting "Preachin' Blues," followed by a reflective version of the Allman-penned "Melissa."
The rest of the band subsequently returned with Ravi Coltrane in tow. They immediately ripped into "Dreams," the ABB staple that bears strong resemblances to Miles Davis' "All Blues." Coltrane took the first solo, making me believe the tune was written for a saxophonist. Trucks followed, spurred to new heights by Coltrane's prowess. Trucks' slide is punctuated by short "breaths," giving the listener the feeling of hearing a horn player through his guitar. "Dreams" was followed by "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," Betts' song that has long been a staple at ABB shows. Coltrane added a nice feel to the tune, and Haynes' fiery solo was reminiscent of the late Duane Allman. Burbridge was again given a bit of solo room, and he laid down some nice runs before bringing the song to a close. The rest of the set consisted of "Woman Across the River" and "Black Hearted Woman," followed by the encore of "Southbound."
While not a show for the ages, this opening show provided a solid base for the rest of the Beacon run. The Allmans continue to take chances and be adventurous with their music, consistently coming up with new songs and reinterpreting older ones. Haynes and Allman still lead the band and write most of the songs, but Trucks and Burbridge are unbelievable musicians who have found their niche with this legendary band. Bringing Ravi Coltrane out for a few songs provided a rare treat for the fans, as the ABB were influenced by John Coltrane as much as anybody else. While the band may not play straight-ahead conventional jazz, they have certainly, with Trucks' and Burbridges' respective influences, shifted towards a jazzier, more improvisational sound. It will be exciting to witness their continued development, and I hope that they continue to play together for many years to come.
Visit the Allman Brothers Band on the web.
Read Doug Collette's review of the same show.