Bound to Keep On Ridin': The Allman Brothers Summer Tour 2005
“ The Allman Brothers Band proved again how a band can continually stretch itself by reaching both forward and backward. ”
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
Expectations usually run high for The Allman Brothers summer appearances at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield MA. and little wonder: the band has made at least one stop in the commonwealth each year for over a decade. Anticipation heightened this year due to the absence of Warren Haynes from the ABB lineup for the first week of this tour (with no single reliable explanation). Add to that the real possibility of guesting from former Allmans pianist Chuck Leavell, in the area this weekend to begin another tenure with The Rolling Stones slated to play at Fenway in Boston, and you've got bonafide drama. All of which crystallized during the two and a half hour set the Allmans played following a fairly lengthy opening from moe. Through full pristine sound in contrast to the downturn of venue audio, he "Instant Live cd's available after the show posit a band fluid and focused, right down to the here-man rhythm section. Whether the natural evolution of the audience, or the presence of a sizable cross-section of jamband fans, the Tweeter crowd on hand this night was noticeably less rowdy and proportionately more attentive than in years past.
And deservedly so. The Allman Brothers Band proved again how a band can continually stretch itself by reaching both forward and backward, reintroducing staples from their earlier repertoire while proffering new material that's on par with and perhaps superior to those 'old' selections. Leavell set the tone for the barrelhouse tenor of the "Southbound' encore, moving Haynes, guitar partner Derek Trucks and bassist Oteil Burbridge to a series of spirited call and response interludes
Such empathy was typical of the well-oiled and inspired interaction of the band, which compensated for mundane and occasionally sloppy moments. "Revival is a great choice to kick off a set, with its high-altitude, angular harmony guitars, but the group ought to think about performing it strictly as an instrumental if Gregg can't master the vocal cues. Not to mention the somewhat dated sentiment of the 'Love is everywhere' lyrics, though there was more than a little reciprocal affection in the air at this point. Gregg's husky voice gave an authentic ambience to "Soulshine, but Warren Haynes' snappy take on Little Milton's "Who's Been Talking would've suffice as homage to the recently deceased bluesman. "Every Hungry Woman was memorable for the fierce interplay between Haynes and partner guitarist Derek Trucks' but the band didn't exactly charge through the riff upon which the song is built.
In contrast, The Allmans reached flashpoint on their new instrumental "Egypt. In an almost casual introduction of the complex melody line, the band lulled the audience, who then heard the ensemble escalate to an absolutely incendiary level during the mid-section of the tune: authored by bassist, Oteil Burbridge(who otherwise kept a low profile this night, with no solo and no vocal), this piece is an extension of the concept of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, and may conceivably replace that Dickey Bett's tune: it is becoming a thing of majesty.
The other high point of he evening, however, occurred on another song written by the departed founding guitarist. Chuck Leavell, who appeared on four numbers this evening given the gracious nod of separate introductions to allow both he and the crowd to acknowledge each other and ABBdanced through his formal solo as originally recorded, but not before he offered another more intricate interlude,
But that wasn't the high point of the performance, which rose to stratospheric heights on the wings of the dual guitars and the overall excitement of the band as a whole. The Allman Brothers are rediscovering this touchstone of their history and in so doing(as they have repeatedly over the last three years in particular,) revitalizing themselves in the process.
Champlain Valley Exposition, Essex Jct, VT, August 28th
Playing a somewhat shorter, and noticeably more conservative set than has been their custom this summer's tour, ABB populated their two hours on the Vermont stage with familiar material that was nevertheless freshened by their own musicianship. just the inclusion of "Wasted Words and/or "Come and Go Blues, from the band's 70's period, would've set a wholly different mood to this show. The rare appearance of the melodramatic yet succinct instrumental, "Hot 'Lanta, (which only ever appeared on Live at Fillmore East), was, therefore, a definite bonus!.
Yet listening to wunderkind bassist Oteil Burbridge's elongated runs during "Midnight Rider will keep the regular ABB concert attendee as transfixed as the recent Allman concert returnee just happy to hear it. The volume of the sound system reduced from the blare of the previous act increased the clarity afforded The Allmans, whose sound is rife with much detail.
An ideal set-opener, "Revival, , suggested how the current lineup boasts all the ingenuity and telepathic interplay of the original six-man band. Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes execute the sharp guitar runs with as much ease as they harmonize with their instruments. "Rockin' Horse is always a showpiece for Haynes, now perhaps a more genuine piece of autobiography than ever these days in the wake of his recent absence from the road: he never fails to ratchet up the power at his command any given night during this song of his and it was here how clearly more fluid his playing is becoming the longer collaborates with Trucks.
A common set closer in recent months, the appearance of "Dreams at approximately halfway through the set signaled the distinct possibility of a surprise closer. But the intensity with which Haynes rendered his fiery solo had to cement your attention even as it was a precursor to Truck's spotlight, within which he displayed a whole new level of patience, detail and finesse than that for which he's becoming famous. His closing statement on the thrilling "Mountain Jam, was similarly mesmerizing, even to Trey Anastasio, who had slipped onstage during the opening trills of this famous instrumental.
The former Phish guitarist had to overcome equipment snafus that delayed his entry into the improvisation, but he proved his mettle on the piece, twirling off an extended solo that raised the bar for the rest of the musicians on stage. Burbridge galloped through a solo where he strummed as well as fingerpicked his way up and down his fretboard after Haynes nailed an alternate melody line to the theme, before Derek's first eloquent exposition. And this doesn't count the rhythmic assurance of drummers Butch Trucks and Jaime plus Marc Quinones who despite having no drum solo this evening (hence the short set!?) acquitted themselves more than admirably by propelling the band to its high-flying climax.
The Allmans have played Vermont more than a few times in the past at various junctures of their career. The original lineup at UVM in 1971, an early stop on the '89 reunion tour as well as stops at Stowe(and a return to the University) in the early 90's. Thus, Gregg's passing comment about returning to the Green Mountains fairly soon carries some credence, but no more so than that which arose from polish and professionalism doled out by he and his comrades this year at The Champlain Valley Exposition.
The last stop on a tour set to resume about two weeks later finds ABB on the threshold of yet another artistic rite of passage. With word of new studio recording in the air, plus the continuation of DTB and Mule work, The Allmans are now faced with taking another step forward to avoid the very fossilization that afflicts their Vermont openers 38 Special. ABB certainly has the repertoire over thirty-five years worth ! to keep themselves and their audiences fresh, and, if the Massachusetts gig was any indication, their audience is evolving with them, allowing for a more-open-minded approach to the choice of material as well as the presentation of it., The Allman Brothers Band are once again primed to rise to the occasion as they've done so often in the past.
It seems like a long time between now and Beacon 2006, but time can fly...