The Allmans and The Mule: Brothers of the Road
Gregg Allman's presence set the standard in that regard. Looking leaner than even in recent years, the namesake of The Allmans sang tunes such as "Ain't My Cross to Bear and "Statesboro Blues with a gutsy depth remarkable for a man his age and history. Add to that his verbosity between songs - for him at least - and an unusually animated mien that led him clap to "You Don't Love Me, plus a few satisfied grins hidden under his neatly trimmed beard, and you were witnessing the continued rebirth of a legendary figure in American rock and blues.
Given his level of strength and enthusiasm, (each of which virtue seems to be coming easier to him as time goes on), it's little wonder he's taking a band on the road for a solo tour this fall. Part of the reason, too, is that The Allman Brothers have curtailed their touring somewhat from previous years, as both Haynes and Trucks work on their solo projects: Mule just released a new studio album, while Trucks reconnects with Eric Clapton in the autumn for another stint in Slowhand's band, alternating that activity with continued promotion of the latest works from The Derek Trucks Band, the Songlines CD and Live DVD.
The side-projects of the two ABB guitarists may explain why there's also a little less breadth of new material in the set lists this summer, but looking at a set list form Tweeter Mansfield couldn't prepare you for the power of the band or the beauty of its musicianship either. The ethereal air of "Aint' Wastin' Time No More was absolutely charged and Haynes' deeply evocative slide work on "Dreams led into "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed in a truly sublime segue.
Here ABB gave their audience everything they were looking for and then some. The previous night at Meadowbrook Farms, The Brothers grounded themselves in the blues as a means of offering its New Hampshire fans surprise after surprise, in the form of songs they might not have expected to hear, played in ways they could not necessarily have expected to hear, in a throwback to the 2003 tours.
The presentation and production of the concert showed some discernible improvement as well. Gone are the gauche graphics in the ABB light-show, the only vestiges of which remain in the shots of the percussionists during their solo turns. Instead the colorful backdrop is replete with images from Jim Flournoy-Holmes artwork for the inside of Eat A Peach. Appropriately enough, some high-altitude photo vistas accompany "Mountain Jam.
"Revival was an appropriate turning point in the two and a half-hour show. The Brothers, led by Trucks, deconstructed this exalting tune in a way only an expert jazz band can dissemble a marriage of melody and rhythm, only to put it back together whole. The band, led by Haynes, accomplished a similarly ingenious feat the next night on "Liz Reed, but this was something else again: the anthemic selection's been a set piece since being exhumed a couple years ago, not the normally expansive likes of the famous instrumental.
All this occurred after an opening triptych of blues including "Done Somebody Wrong, "Can't Lose What You Never Had and "Trouble No More. Played in quick succession, ABB staked a claim to being contemporary masters of the blues, perhaps on par with the authors of those songs (Elmore James and Muddy Waters). The connection to this earthy emotional genre is, to a great extent, what makes ABB live such a stirring experience, particularly when you listen to the means by which they effectively transcend the genre. The taut dramatic instrumental "Hot 'Lanta doesn't sound exactly like the blues, yet the way The Allmans play it these days, it is everything that is the blues: ecstasy, despair, foreboding and faith.
ABB were a blues-jazz band in Gilford, so it was only fitting that they close their set proper with a hard-charging half-hour of "Mountain Jam. While the drums/percussion interlude, like the next night's, never gained true momentum, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe and Marc Quinones otherwise prodded Trucks and Haynes to send what is usually a lilting exploration of melody slicing and diving through the cool late summer air. The Brothers' empathy as musicians is never more apparent than in such open-ended playing, as the headlong momentum generated here gave some inkling of the juggernaut the band would be the next night.
The New Hampshire encore, "No One to Run With, served as continuity hearing the blues-rock band The Allmans became by the time they reached Mansfield. Like the celebratory climax the next evening, there was a certain joyful irony in hearing this the Bo- Diddley derived tune: the fans and the band had more than a few kindred spirits to run with, while the uproarious clamor Saturday night was definite redemption for the painful sensation of feeling tied to a whipping post.