A Modern Day Appreciation of the Allman Brothers Band

Doug Collette BY

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Any music lover who's come to relish the Allman Brothers Band, particularly in the last ten to fifteen years, must be feeling more than a little melancholy as 2015 evolves. And if following the iconic Southern rock band has become a cyclical rite of passage all its own, that poignant sensation is probably not going to wane as the seasons come and go: in years (not so recently) past, before the glow of a new year by the calendar had come and gone, the announcement of the Beacon Theatre shows arrived and, notwithstanding the relative pain of getting the tickets to to those appearances, the weight of winter lightened in anticipation of the run at the Broadway venue, a March madness all its own, particularly if the weather turns spring-like ( and when didn't it?).

The summer tour of the sheds didn't seem that far off either when those unique two/three weeks were over and in recent years the Peach-head community had the Wanee Festival in April to tide it over til then plus the Peach Festival in August to soften the blow of progressively fewer July/August dates since 2010. And while it's true the band generally turned to the warhorses almost exclusively in front of larger crowds, the music could still resonate in both balmy atmosphere or inclement weather: 2006 in Mansfield, Massachusetts was dubbed by one wag as "The Beacon's Greatest Hits."

Autumn, of course, had always carried its own psychic and emotional burden for the devotee of the Allmans due to the death of its founder, Duane "Skydog" Allman, in October of 1971 and now, with the group seemingly calling it quits as of October 28,2014-with the marathon show actually lasting til the wee hours on the anniversary of the late leader's passing-fall has even more meaning. Yet, the most stirring moments of the Allman Brothers Band's recording at the Beacon on October 28, 2014, didn't occur til near the end of the near four hour performance.

Which, in its own way, was the logical extension of ABB's progression (or lack thereof) as guitarists Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes finalized the announcement of their departure from the group as released in January of 2015. When the latter rejoined the group in 2001, after a turn concentrating on Gov't Mule and a stint with Phil Lesh and Friends, he solidified a bond with Trucks the two had established over the years with numerous sit-ins so that, by 2003's Beacon run, their complementary styles, plus the seamlessness nuance with which they meshed in virtual telepathy, rivaled that of their forebears in the band Duane Allman and Dickey Betts.

Not surprisingly, this also led to a period of inspired innovation for the group at large, where monumental segues such as the 2004 transition from "High Cost of Low Living" (from the first ABB studio album in twelve years, Hittin' the Note (Peach/Sanctuary 2003) into the "Mountain Jam" that started the set (immortalized in the forward to Randy Poe's biography of the late found of ABB, Skydog (Backbeat, 2006), were as representative of the band's inclination to stretch out in improvisational terms as well as judiciously reach outside the standard Allmans repertoire.

Around this time, the frequency of setlist inclusions from Derek & The Dominos' Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs (Polydor, 1970)( to which Eric Clapton masterpiece Skydog had contributed so mightily) was only the most overt means to parlay cover material related to their history: Duane Allman played on Aretha Franklin's version of The Band's "The Weight" as well as Johnny Jenkins' rendition of Dr. John's "Walk On Golden Splinters." And it's hard to miss the meaning, both personal and provincial, within The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

Still, by 2006 those peak experiences were fewer and farther between even as The Brothers continued their annual March runs at the Beacon, conducted summer tours with regularity and made valiant (and mostly successful) attempts to avoid predictability, as with the 2011 fall tour of theaters including Boston's Orpheum (where the group flashed more fire than in New York that year). The Allman Brothers Band were never less than professionally excellent as they decade turned, but as their two vaunted guitarists gave more and more attention to their own projects—Haynes going solo in addition to Mule and The Derek Trucks Band giving way to Derek's alliance with Susan Tedeschi first in the Soul Stew Revival, then the current Tedeschi Trucks Band alliance-their engagement with ABB had to wane.

During the 2009 40th anniversary celebration, at the year's Beacon Theatre run as well as during the summer tour, The Allman Brothers Band paid rightful homage to the group's founder. And deservedly so, for the guitarist's drive to form and sustain the band was such that it carried them, with no little momentum through the period immediately following his death as documented on Macon City Auditorium: 2/11/72 )Peach, 2004)all the way to a reconfiguration of the group circa Brothers and Sisters (Capricorn, 1973) that achieved mainstream commercial success without compromising their roots or their highly-improvisational musicianship (during the course of which unfortunately the Brothers lost bassist Berry Oakley in the throes of mourning his mentor)..

Such a mature forward-thinking attitude hasn't always been the bellwether of the Allman Brothers during the course of their history and 2014, most unfortunately, was no exception. An overt lack of strong leadership the likes of which led to the embarrassingly clumsy exit of founder guitarist Dickey Betts from the band in 2000, also tainted the later years, including an all-too familiar and eerily similar sequence of events leading to the rescheduling of canceled spring 2014 Beacon shows to the fall.

Fallout from those circumstances generated more than a little apprehension as to whether those would actually happen as in the wake of Gregg Allman reportedly stricken with bronchitis in the spring, later in the season and during the summer (when no final group tour happened?!?!), rumors of health issues self-avowed and otherwise dogged the namesake of group, all prior to an injury he suffered in a golf cart accident. Appropriate as might've been for a band that almost obsessively eschewed self-created melodrama, the resulting absence of a summer jaunt, serving as glorious anticipation of their retirement, seemed irresponsible at worst and insensitive at best.

Yet near the end of the final fall show, no doubt moved by the profundity of the occasion-whether an Allman Brothers Band ever appears again or not is subject to debate inside and outside the community-when the moment of truth arrives these Brothers played with a fire commensurate to the dramatic turning point the show represents, particularly appropriate in the light of the farewell comments Gregg Allman offers at show's end as he reflects upon the extended history of the Allman Brothers, and then introduces the final number, Muddy Waters' "Trouble No More," as the very first number the band every played when he joined the ensemble his brother had assembled in 1969.

What's remarkable is that this tune of the blues Buddha's is almost anti-climactic in a longer sequence of songs, begun slightly less than an hour prior, during which the group slowly but surely generates momentum the likes of which has always distinguished their best shows no matter the lineup. The patient but rabid audience offers instant recognition of the instrumental introduction to "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" as the ABB segue into it after a "Mountain Jam" as authoritative as it is melodious, while the both of the final two numbers the ensemble plays, "Whipping Post" and "Trouble No More," carry an autobiographical resonance, no a vengeance, hard to miss: the depth of emotion the septet exhibits in this interval had been curiously (or perhaps not?) absent from their musicianship for most of this evening (and, by most accounts, the prior five nights) and its the impact carries even greater force as the group, in perhaps the most resounding acknowledgment and tribute to Duane Allman, plays past midnight of show date to bring this marathon performance to a close on the anniversary of his tragic death October 29th.

If the many years leading up to these rarefied experiences on the stage of the Beacon was exactly the stuff of Hollywood cinema (ABB were the product of the American south above all else), there could hardly have been a more fitting finale for the Allman Brothers Band than this one. It is, as is all the greatest music, absolutely timeless.

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