The Allman Brothers Band
August 16th, 2008
There were more than just a small handful of stellar moments during the Allman Brother's set at the newly christened Comcast Center in Mansfield MA August 16th. But the seminal Southern rockers never built up a full head of steam during the course of their comparatively truncated two-hour set.
Perhaps that lack of cumulative momentum was due to taking the stage around 9:00 with an 11 P.M. curfew after a late start by Bob Weir and Ratdog (the single set from Weir and Co. comparable in length to ABB's). Or perhaps it's the group slowly building up their stamina early in their first string of dates this year now that Gregg Allman has now been cured of hep C.
The surviving sibling and founder of The Brothers looked and sounded none the worse for his ordeal, judging from the feverish way he belted out the opening "Statesboro Blues" and contributed a raucous barrelhouse piano. In fact, the issues that kept ABB from their annual run at New York's Beacon theater, among other dates, brought an unusual poignancy to Allman's acoustic reading of "Melissa"; meanwhile, Warren Haynes' country-tinged electric guitar accompaniment resonated with the same bittersweet flavor.
Haynes's playing throughout the night was focused and free of the self-styled cliches he'd created the last year or so. His solo on "Rockin' Horse, " for instance, was a model of ingenuity, equally articulate and intense. In that regard, he almost but not quite equaled the performance of his precocious guitar partner, Derek Trucks, on that tune: a muted interval of melodious invention was a marked departure from the fretboard duels in which the twosome have engaged on that redoubtable tune over the years. Their call and response on "Don't Keep Me Wonderin'" was more along those lines, a reminder of how miraculously these men can reinvent the sound of the original Allmans by firing up not just their own instruments but the rhythm section as well.
Yet that was just one of the comparatively few memorable interludes in a show that was consummately professional, yet lacking in the kind of purpose ABB usually devotes to their shows, especially as they play in the environs of Boston. And Trucks was responsible for most of those moments: having moved center stage year before last, he is now the bonafide star of this band and, if his body English on at least a couple of the tunes is any indication, he is slowly turning into the bandleader on stage as the rest of the group defers to him more and more.
Such deference appears in a variety of contexts. Trucks took the last solo on the vibrant version of "It Hurts Me Too," on which his wife, Susan Tedeschi, appeared; her own solo was pithy and powerful, as was Haynes,' but Trucks elevated the power of the performance even further when he took his turn. He performed a similar feat on the predictable yet fiery encore of "Whipping Post," too, taking the spotlight first and quickly developing an incisive emotive statement on this contemporary blues.
This classic Gregg Allman song was nowhere near the showpiece it can be due to this shortened show, but "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," the vintage instrumental of the now-departed guitarist Dickey Betts came close. The entire septet escalated the intricacy of their interaction through each successive section of this well-wrought composition. Bassist Oteil Burbridge's bass solo, sans his customary scat vocals, was remarkable for its complexity, far surpassing that of the percussion segment that followed, if only because rhythmmates, Marc Quinines, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe (whose contribution was minimal), took it past the point of natural climax.
Songs that remain set pieces otherwise dominated much of the rest of the setlist: "Soulshine" is worth hearing when Allman and Haynes trade verses, and the latter offered an even more emotional reading of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic." Yet one of the group's main improvisational vehicles, "Desdemona," had its energy dissipate during the solo from Kenny Brooks of Ratdog (whose set was afflicted, not surprisingly, with a similar lethargy).
Throughout the triumphs, trials and tribulations of almost four decades, The Allman Brothers have generally managed to maintain a level of spontaneity and surprise in keeping with their improvisational origins, but this late summer performance didn't match the mesmerizing effect of the full moon shining over them this on late summer night.