Allman Brothers at Red Rocks, Denver
August 30, 2008
The Allman Brothers Band doesn't tour much anymore; maybe two or three months a year. Even then, their dates are concentrated mainly on the East Coast and in the Deep South. Outside of those stops, this year's tour had one date each in Michigan and Illinois; and of course one at Red Rocks just outside Denver. A late summer date at Red Rocks has been a near tradition for several years now. (Last year they played Aspen in September instead of Red Rocks.) For Front Range Allman Brothers fans, that's just another great reason to live in Colorado. This year's Allman Brothers shows were curtailed even more by Gregg Allman's bout with hepatitis early this year which caused the cancellation of their annual month-long springtime stand at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan.
Saturday night, Allman proved he's back and can still make it happen. His voice retains the grit and soul required for the kind of blues-rock the Brothers have been cranking out for decades. His work on the keyboards was somewhat more prominent than in years past. He took a couple solos on the B-3 organ and even traded licks with the guitarists several times. Melissa provided the vehicle for his most radical departure of the evening. Traditionally, his keyboard pit sits on the left side of the stage, and he'll remain ensconced there throughout the set switching between the organ and electric piano. For Melissa, he got up, strapped on an acoustic guitar and walked out front and center to sing and strum the guitar just like a real rock star.
The band delivered another set of hard-charging Brothers' favorites with a number of cover tunes mixed in as well. In their two and a half hour set, they repeated only one song from their Red Rocks show two years ago and only three repeats from three years ago. As this writer has previously stated: these guys don't repeat much. For Saturday night's show, they pulled out a number of classic Allman Brothers tunes they hadn't played in recent years. I've been thinking for some time that "You Don't Love Me," a Willie Cobbs blues classic from Live at the Fillmore East, would be a good choice to dust off. That tune has one of those infectious riffs and a shuffling rhythm perfectly suited for solos. And that turned out to be their opener Saturday; what a great start.
Another tune in the category of "great, but recently overlooked, was "Les Brers in A Minor," a classic Dickie Betts instrumental with a driving bass line and a majestic melody for the twin harmony guitars. "Melissa" was yet another one not performed in recent years. Most of the rest of the Brothers tunes came from their first two albums, "Leave My Blues at Home," "Don't Keep Me Wonderin,'" "Black Hearted Woman," "Dreams" and "Whipping Post."
Seeing which covers they'll pull out of their hat is a big part of the fun of an Allman Brothers show. They've always covered some blues classics, but the addition of Warren Haynes, a notorious cover artist, has ramped up that aspect of their playing. Saturday's show featured two Dylan tunes, a Willie Dixon blues gem, a Derek and the Dominos masterpiece, some Grateful Dead and a little Led Zeppelin to top it off.
The Allman Brothers, more than most bands, have an extensive "family" that shows up in the number of guest artists coming and going on stage. Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks' wife and a bone fide blues woman in her own right, appeared for two tunes. Wearing horn-rimmed glasses, she wasn't immediately recognizable, coming out for Willie Dixon's "I Ain't Superstitious." She strapped on the requisite Les Paul (with sunburst finish), stood right next to Trucks and Haynes and threw down a gutsy guitar solo on top of the mid-tempo funky blues. For the next tune, the road crew set up a microphone, and she sang the lead on Dylan's "Don't Think Twice." With those horn-rimmed glasses, she looked a little like Elizabeth McQueen from Asleep at the Wheel. On the Dead's "Franklin's Tower" almost all of opening group Ratdog joined the band, making an 11-piece ensemble with four guitars, three drummers, two keyboard players, a bassist and a sax. Bob Weir and Haynes traded lead vocals. Melissa followed with just a four piece band; Allman on vocals and acoustic guitar, Haynes on Betts-like electric guitar fills, Burbidge on bass and Butch Trucks as the sole drummer.
Speaking of drums, they got their turn, during "Mountain Jam" but it can't really be described as a drum solo when four guys are playing at once. For the drum segment, bassist Burbidge jumped behind Trucks' trap set and Trucks went to work on the tympani. It was a percussion extravaganza worthy of Tito Puente (just not as Latiny).
"Why Does Love Got to be So Sad" was a particular highlight. Derek Trucks toured with Eric Clapton last year and, because the tune is from the Derek and the Dominos book, Trucks probably picked it up there. When Clapton came through Denver last year, he dropped that tune from his set list. The Brothers' version, with Haynes on vocals, was a good consolation prize.
Overall, the band displayed the intensity that makes an Allman Brothers' show something special. The three-man percussion section along with a very active Burbidge on bass consistently set up a giant wave of nearly tsunamic proportions, and the front-line guitarists jumped aboard and surfed it like they'd been doing it all their lives. "You Don't Love Me" was a little ragged in places with Allman's vocals lagging perhaps a little too much. That's a technique that can be effective, but this time it seemed to throw off the rest of the band, resulting in a couple missed cues. But it was a song they obviously hadn't performed as much as some others. "Whipping Post," on the other hand, is an old standard and the band tightly ripped through it.
Opening act Bob Weir and Ratdog played for two hours and 15 minutes and surveyed a significant amount of Dead/Garcia terrain, including tunes like "Bertha," "Morning Dew," "Loose Lucy" and "Loser." Susan Tedeschi joined them as well for some harmony vocals on Dylan's "Hard Rain." The Deadheads in the audience ate it up, and for the most part it was a pleasant set that went on for about 45 minutes too long with, especially toward the end, a significant amount of languid noodling. The highlight of Ratdog's set was the encore, Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" with, what seemed to be, an extra jolt of Bo Diddley in the rhythm.
Allman came out for the encore and, just before launching "Whipping Post," declared, "We'll come back as long as we can come back; as long as we're able." The bout with hepatitis probably got him thinking about mortality, but I prefer to focus on the optimistic side that he's planning return trips to Red Rocks for as long as the body's able.