The Allman Brothers Band: Live at The Beacon Theatre NYC 2006
New York, NY
March 10-11, 2006
Let us now praise famous men...
Because it's probably not fair to expect the Allman Brothers Band to enact a miraculous reinvention of themselves every year. From the sounds and sights of two shows from the two-week run at this year's New York City's Beacon Theatre, ABB is not resting on their laurelsquite the contrary, making every valiant attempt to refine their craft and expand it.
And well they should since the current lineup, in place since 2001 when Warren Haynes rejoined the group as a 'special guest' at that year's Beacon engagement, boasts the second longest tenure in the fabled group's 37-year history (the first being the personnel including himself and Allen Woody together from 1989 to 1997). Building upon The Allmans' own history, not to mention the roots of their music in blues and hard rock, the 2006 Brothers called upon their own reserves and those resources of likeminded musicians to explore and recapitulate their improvisationally-based music. With special guests appearing every single night, it was as if ABB was testing their own mettle.
As overheard in the loge before the Saturday show, the departure of Dickey Betts in 2000 opened the Allman Brothers up to a decidedly more jazz-oriented direction, keynoted on the evening of March 12th, when venerable jazz drummer Roy Haynes sat in with the band. The last in a veritable procession of guests that graced the stage with ABB this Saturday, Haynes led the band through "Afro Blue," during which performance every single member of the Allmans took a turn just watching the 81-year-old drummer's fiercely-articulated percussion work.
If that was one of the most musically satisfying moments, it elicited nowhere near the building-shaking ovation the audience tendered with almost religious fervor when ABB, led by Haynes, together with original Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington, swaggered through a highly-emotional rendition of "Simple Man. Peter Frampton's first appearance was greeted slightly less loudly and he acquitted himself nicely by leading The Brothers, together with Warren, who was definitely master of ceremonies of the evening, in and out of a chunky arrangement of "Born Under A Bad Sign; " the icon from the Seventies, now looking like nothing so much as some sort of rock and roll gnome with his bald pate and white goatee, added only little less to the encore of "Southbound.
This almost but not quite perfunctory performance was in decided contrast to the highpoint of the dual sets as presented by the Allman Brothers on their own. The explosive opening of "Don't Want You No More/Ain't My Cross to Bear was something of a red herring as the slant of the evening was much more refined in the form of "Instrumental Illness' and "Les Brers in A Minor; each instrumental from decidedly different epoch of ABB history, the instrumental approach on each was sleek, quick and more than a little majestic as the septet brought them to a unified finish.
The spooky syncopated likes of Dr. John's "Walk on Gilded Splinters furnished a spotlight for namesake Gregg Allman, as did the resounding slow blues of "Key to Highway. Trading verses with Haynes suggests the empathy between the two musicians, as did the latter's scalding solo on the acoustic "Melissa, which burned away all the saccharine import the tune has gained since it first appeared on Eat a Peach (and more recently, Cingular commercials.) The leader of Gov't Mule put his fiery staccato solo style on display during a loud pulsing version of "Dreams, alternating between slide and fingerstyle as if to demonstrate how effectively his guitar work functions as a foil for his fretboard partner Derek Trucks.
The 26-year-old guitar wunderkind is definitely the star of The Allman Brothers right now. Even if his profile were not on the rise by dint of he publicity surrounding the release of his own band's new album Songlines (which was played before the March 10th show and during set break as well), the acclamation afforded each of his solos might lead the uninitiated to think ABB was his band. Certainly, he is much ore comfortable and assertive on stage with the Allmans than every before, but it is of course the startling ingenuity of his playing that is the source of his growing fame.
Trucks' guitar work is a constant source of surprise and was especially so March 10th as he took the first solo on "Mountain Jam, the open-ended jam vehicle The Brothers used to bookend their formal sets. Almost as if to invoke their collective muse on an ever higher plane, the previous night's opening show of the Beacon run relied on tried and true blues, with Hubert summon sitting in, and an extended version of the ABB warhorse "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," it's no accident that Trucks set the tone of the evening as well as posited himself as the primary instrumentalist. He never appears to play fast but can navigate dynamics in such as way he goes from zero to 60 in a link of an eye and slows to tantalize with a slide just as quickly.
Like the subsequent star-studded evening, Friday had its share of memorable and not so memorable moments. Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited appeared early in the first set and Gregg, having noticeably lost weight since last fall, sang it with an admirable amount of bemusement, but if it's true Warren Haynes is a big Johnny Winter fan (having seen him rip through an adrenalized version of "Good Morning Little School Girl" with Mule in Boston two years ago), The Allmans did not present as completely crystallized an arrangement of the tune as they might. In stark contrast, The interesting choice of "AnyDay, from Derek & The Dominos Layla album (Trucks is set to join Eric Clapton's band temporarily this spring in Europe) was made all the more unforgettable for the galvanizing way it was played and sung: bassist Oteil Burbridge could not have displayed more gusto doing the lead singing and the entrance of Derek's wife Susan Tedeschi to add vocal harmonies was a stroke of genius.
The gutsy toothsome female then strapped on her own electric guitar to front the Brothers on "Feel So Bad, a staple of the Derek Trucks Band's repertoire and came out at the beginning of the second set as well, to continue the bluesy undercurrent of Beacon '06 by singing and soloing her way through Junior Wells "Little by Little. One might've wished d the other Allman family member, Gregg's son Devon, had been given as much room to move Saturday when he came out to play and sing on the perhaps overly-familiar "Midnight rider; " he might well have graced "Don't Keep Me Wonderin' another vintage but hardly overplayed selection from early in the ABB discography (it's on their second studio album Idlewild South.)
Devon's presence might also have injected another dollop of novelty to "Soulshine, but this Warren Haynes mantra always fares better in the hands of the Allman Brothers Band than when he plays it solo or with his own band Gov't Mule, where's it's a sing-along comparable to what "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" was, as usual, for ABB this evening. Gregg's supple voice brings gospel authenticity to the song while Haynes and Trucks made sparks fly on their call-and-response to ride out the tune. Much like the lightning exchanges and singing. soaring tandem guitar that elevated "Every Hungry Woman from just a riff workout the next night, the tandem guitar work, as well as the well-sculpted solos, not to mention Burbridge's booming intro on the thunderous reading of "Whipping Post was still echoing through this hallowed theatre when the lights when up and the sing-song tones of "Little Martha' signified the ABB were done for the evening.
Credit where credit is due to the Allman Brothers Band as they begin their year as usual at the beacon Theatre just off Broadway. While no significant developments appear to be in the offing for the group, such as a new studio album to follow-up 2003's Hittin' the Note, and there have been some questionable choices in rotation through the run at the time of this writingwhy exhume "Maydell from the last album instead of "High Cost of Low Living ?there is the palpable sense of ABB pushing themselves to a new level, since, for once, circumstance is not forcing it upon them. The evidence of movement is there is ways large (playing Fillmore East set list in sequence on 3/13 the thirty-fifth anniversary of its recording)and small(the light show may still contain the hackneyed biker footage for "Good Clean Fun, but is otherwise bereft of clichéd effect).
The apparent short rotation of tunes on the run may not be all that significant because this is after all early in the ABB calendar. It's well to keep in mind the original band worked from a standard bookcompare Fillmore East to Live @ Atlanta Pop(and remember how standardized were the repertoire of the great Quintets of Miles Davis)and that is after all a tried and true convention of both rock and jazz units. The question is whether stagnation arise from the short list so the placement of a choice nugget like "Come and Go Blues even at a slight distance from "Les Brers in A Minor (see 3/23 show) would preclude that: One of the multiple beauties of music is how 'new' and 'old' songs can stand out in much different and greater relief from each other.
Derek Trucks' aforementioned stint with Eric Clapton, his continued roadwork and public relations efforts on behalf of his band, combined with Mule's heavy spring and summer tour schedule as already announced (plus the tentative late summer release of their new studio effort recorded this past January) may curtail Allman activity in terms of summer touring after their second annual Wanee festival in April. What the Brothers brought to the Beacon 2006 run though was a robust purpose and a commitment to avoid stagnation that should stand them in good stead as the next few months (and, dare we say it? years) go by. They do after all remain staunchly their own menafter all who has a tradition compared to the annual Beacon run?and if that's not a foundation to build upon, what is?