Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon, NYC, March 27, 2009
The Allman Brothers Band
New York, New York
March 27th, 2009
The Allman Brothers March 27th show at The Beacon Theater epitomized the band's entire 2009 run at the now gorgeously refurbished off-Broadway theatre. The Dixie rock pioneers played brilliantly most of the time on their own while their guests were hit and miss.
Not surprisingly, most of the novelty of the Beacon run has come from sit-ins ranging from Eric Clapton and Jimmy Herring to Bruce Willis and Sheryl Crow. Yet as the fifteen shows progressed, ABB injected more than a modicum of vigor into their playing, and not coincidentally the most inspired passages appeared during those songs outside their standard repertoire.
So it was this Friday night, after setting themselves up with an extended coda on "Ain't Wastin' Time No More," The Brothers took flight even higher on their yet unnamed instrumental. This composition may not be wholly originalthere are too many obvious reference points to "Afro Blue," Coltrane's take on "My Favorite Things," as well as Miles Davis' In A Silent Way(Columbia 1969)but at least this night the sound grew increasingly majestic as the tune's ten-plus minutes progressed.
Likewise riveting was the rarely-played "End of the Line" from Shades of Two Worlds (Sony/Epic 1991): watching Gregg Allman wail about the old days, his shoulder-length hair loose as if intent on recalling his turbulent past, was akin to seeing a ghost.
Not that the man sounded it. The surviving Brother having recovered from last year's treatment for hepatitis C demonstrated new-found strength any number of ways: the guttural caterwaul here, the gentle melisma there plus the handclaps and sly smiles that always signal he's enjoying himself. The namesake of the band, however, may no longer be its true figurehead.
Guitarist Derek Trucks' profile has risen dramatically in the decade he's played with The Allmans, and positioned as he now is on stage, almost directly center with the rest of the band surrounding him in symmetry, he has become the focal point of their concerts.
And rightly so, for he is endless fascinating to watch and hear as he plays solos that build with almost imperceptibly fearsome ferocityas was the case on the climax to "Les Brers in A Minorwithout ever forsaking a gossamer-like fragility when he chooses. Moreover, he never seems to fail to inspire his peers with the drama of his playing. Little wonder, then, that his guitar partner Warren Haynes was at the top of his game: rarely if ever falling prey to his own self-created cliches, the once and future leader of Gov't Mule exhibited an ingenuity comparable to Trucks.'
As did bassist Oteil Burbridge who, given his gleeful visage and animated body language, may relish Allman performance more than anyone in the venue. Moving from a four-string to six-string instrument in the course of the percussion spotlight late in the second set, Burbridge injected ripples of energy into an otherwise static drum display. Would that the Brothers' first hour or so had ended on such a high note. But "Soulshine" may be their most stolid numbereven when Gregg shares vocals with Warrenand the appearance of Kid Rock part way through didn't elevate the number to new heights.
Nor did this customer's exhortations to the audience to "make some racket" generate much of a response on a cover of the Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See." A fitting nod to Southern brethren, especially with original MTB drummer Paul Riddle taking part, the number was most notable for the latter's lively interaction with charter drummer Butch Trucks (who is still a dynamo after all these years): the sound of the seven piece unit was fuller by far, suggesting founding drummer Jaimoe's minimalist playing has become perhaps too subtle for its own good.
This interlude seemed all the more static following the galvanizing appearance of Wet Willie's frontman Jimmy Hall. Blowing a hearty harp on Elmore James' "The Sky Is Crying," his tasty sax alternated with feverish vocals on "Grits Ain't Groceries." Like a revivalist preacher, Hall had seized the capacity audience before his band's signature song, "Keep On Smilin,'" was completed.
The highly-touted celebration of the Allman Brothers Band's fortieth anniversary ended up being something of a mixed bag as some guests did not add to the momentum of the eventful evening as much as others. But then the selling points of the projected Beacon DVD release don't necessarily directly equate to truly great music. Ultimately, though, ABB maintained and actually underscored their integrity by dint of performances representative of their best, which bodes well for their immediate as well as not so immediate future.