The Allman Brothers Band
US Cellular Pavilion at Meadowbrook
Aug. 24, 2009
In celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, The Allman Brothers Band would seem to be playing it safe, at least judging from setlists relying almost solely on staples of their repertoire. But if their New Hampshire appearance proved anything, it was that mere titles don't convey what actually happens on stage.
The back drop behind the stage as the band took the stage displayed a formal declaration of their milestoneas well as "Dedication to a Brother," in recognition of the founding member Duane Allman, pictured in a series of photos as the septet began to play. But because the late guitarist's name wasn't specifically documented and, as the two-and-a-half-hour performance played out, an attendee might well think this recognition was aimed at the other namesake of the band keyboardist/vocalist/songwriter Gregg Allman.
A clutch of set pieces beginning a concert is usually the precursor to more extensive improvisation as the night progresses, yet this single set at Meadowbrook featured the surviving sibling's vocals virtually without interruption. Granted, guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes and his comparatively youthful counterpart, guitarist Derek Trucks, engaged in some wicked call-and-response to open "Hoochie Coochie Man," and even more furious interplay near the end of "No One to Run with," but those intervals were no more memorable than Allman's vocals.
On the latter tune, Gregg Allman sounded as young and vigorous as he looked. He was the very definition of a blues singer as he phrased his words, and the nuances he injected into Muddy Waters' "Trouble No More" suggested performing the tune for over three decades is a self-renewing experience for Allman. Similarly, Allman brought fresh feeling to his own "Come and Go Blues," a bracing vibrance in his voice equal to the tandem guitars coming from his stage left via the guitars of Haynes and Trucks.
Allman also played an appropriately bouncy piano solo on "Statesboro Blues" as the Allmans headed toward the performance's denouement. ABB sets of the last couple years have been lacking the injection of new material, in the form of covers or originals, that earmarked their recent pinnacles in 2003 through 2005, as well as the seamless seques that elevated their jamming during that same period. This late summer night, however, the group reached directly back to that approach, with comparably stunning results: Allman nailed the vocal interpretation of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (particularly poignant on the lines, "like my brother before me, I'm a working man...") as the musicians deftly executed the time changes, immediately after which the Allmans slid directly into their most extended improvisation of the night, an approximately half-hour rendition of their trademark "Mountain Jam."
Again, like the best such instrumental workouts of recent years, the band teased the melodic theme of Donovan's ditty before authoritatively stating it, then took a similar approach via Jimi Hendrix' "Third Stone from the Sun." Haynes led the band through a short interpolation of "Smokestack Lighting," as if to remind that The Allman Brothers, at their roots, are a blues band, before an abbreviated percussion spotlight led to the second streamlined bass solo of the evening from Oteil Burbridge. Burnbridge, the unsung hero of the lineup, fingered a fluid swirl of ideas leading smoothly into a rousing cresecendo theme before the Brothers triumphantly left the stage. All this in stark contrast to the static stylistic pastiche offered during the two hours of opening act Widespread Panic (whose guitarist Jimmy Herring and keyboardist JoJo Hermann guested with ABB on "Who's Been Talking" and, through their inattentiveness, effectively disrupted it's usually ghostly finish).
The Allmans returned to the stage to explosive acclamation, offered a "Happy Birthday" shout out in response to drummer Butch Trucks' request, then, perfectly appropriately, snaked their way into "One Way Out," allowing Gregg Allman to effectively finish the show with an exclamation point to the group'sand hisperformance.
The Allman Brothers' appearance at what has become one of their favorite venues was a masterful exercise in song selection and pacing worthy of a band with the experience it's currently commemorating.
Gregg Allman: Scott Gries
Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks: Angela Weiss