The Allman Brothers Band
New York, NY
March 21 & 22, 2014
Originally scheduled to be the final two shows of The Allman Brothers Band's 2014 Beacon Theatre run, those dates were subsequently superseded with the announcement of additional performances. However, the distinction returned to the Friday and Saturday shows when Gregg Allman's illness caused the rescheduling of the final four appearances. The founding member and vocalist/songwriter's absence from 3/21 and 3/22 would seem to be quite a liability in itself, yet the remaining member of the group, with some more than able assistance, ultimately offered two of the most memorable shows in recent memory at the Broadway venue.
Overtly led by guitarist and vocalist Warren Haynes, with guitarist Derek Trucks as second in command, the reconfigured lineup concentrated on instrumental improvisation for the better part of the six hours plus they played over the two evenings. Yet there were some sterling vocal contributions as well: in a marked but equally effective contrast to her gentle reading of "All My Friends" on Saturday, Susan Tedeschi barked the lyrics of "Stand Back" over a sinuous arrangement Friday night, right after harmonizing with the remarkably sweet singing of bassist Oteil Burbridge on "7 Turns."
The latter further charmed the audience by vocalizing on the Grateful Dead's "Franklin's Tower" the next night too and would've taken "Turn On Your Love Light" further than he did if given the chance. The guitarist in ABB drummer Jaimoe's Jass Band, Junior Mack, combined equal parts authority and respect as he rendered the lyrics to "Ain't Wastin' Time No More," while Wet Willie's Jimmy Hall displayed those same virtues when he belted out "You Don't Love Me," but shied away from any dramatic climax comparable to Gregg's usual reading.
The singer/harpist saxophonist was no doubt well aware what lay ahead in the set list 3/22. Rendering almost tame the ominous air conjured up on "True Gravity," an almost overpowering escalation of intense jamming beginning with a segue from "Black Hearted Woman" led into another of the iconic San Francisco band's signature songs, "The Other One," the transition of which brought a big smile to the face of keyboardist Rob Barraco (who's spent more than a little time on that songbook, with the Dark Star Orchestra and as one of Phil Lesh's friends). Barraco's piano might've been as prominent in the live mix as his and counterpart keyboardist/flautist Kofi Burbridge's Hammond B3 organ playing, but there's no denying the extra texture the dual keys lent to the sound of the reconfigured band.
Both Trucks and Haynes let loose with fiery solos on the aforementioned Dead tune and married a similarly heightened passion to the complexity and logic of their playing on the finale of "Les Brers in A Minor." With their heads together, watching each other's hands move on their respective fretboards, the two men offered a visual image of how single-minded they've become over the years- during their complementary soloing in the moment on "Dreams;" it was here it occurred that Gregg Allman's absence these two nights ironically placed the spotlight on these two men in a way they wholly deserved and not just because of their impending departure from the Allman ranks, but because it is their chemistry and imagination since 2001 that has made this particular Brothers lineup the most inspiring since the original sextet.
The guitar partners extraordinaire deserve all the attention they got this first weekend of spring and responded in kind, uniting abandon and restraint in just the right proportion as they brought "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" to such a resounding climax. Saxophonist Bill Evans, a regular at the Beacon over the last few years, had more than a little to do with that dramatic moment, having set the stage for same when he blew hard fast and full during "Good Morning Little School Girl" during the first set Friday, but it was emblematic of the inclusive integrity of this show and the next that, in contrast to so many sit-ins from other guests over the years, Evans' participation was purposeful and passionate.
Likewise, Barraco nailed the famous Chuck Leavell piano solo on "Jessica," and beamed broadly as he did so, ratifying his presence, along with Kofi Burbridge's over the course of the entirety of both these shows; the two recruits provided a stable foundation for setlists permeated with a fluid spontaneity that, even though it was clouded every so slightly by the absence of The Allman Brothers' namesake survivor, hit home accurately and emotionally. For instance, when Tedeschi not only sang Elmore James' "The Sky Is Crying," but also fingered an emotionally charged solo, she called to mind the fact the song was played at ABB founding member Duane Allman's funeral.
If the Saturday night encore of "Southbound" (in which participated guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Vivino) thus seemed anticlimactic in the most routine way, it was also effective in offering a relatively low-key moment of reflection for the musicians as well as the audience, all of whom had experienced a unique communal experience that night. With the beginning of this particular evening, concluding with an uproarious rendition of "Revival," seeming like nothing so much as an extended aural get well wish for Gregg, the sizzling recapitulation of empathetic group expertise from the previous evening certainly earned all the musicians, and perhaps Warren Haynes most of all, an opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief.
Those expecting a conventional ABB show March 21 and 22 got anything but that, the depth of thought and expanse of talent in action on the stage of this gorgeous venue rare fodder indeed for music lovers with their ears and minds most open.