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The Allman Brothers Band: Beacon Preview 2009, Forty Years and Counting

Doug Collette By

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The Allman Brothers Band's 2009 run at New York City's Beacon Theatre carries more than its usual amount of hot-blooded anticipation. This year is the band's 40th anniversary, impressive enough in itself for any band, perhaps doubly so for one with the cataclysmic history of this group, with its well- documented accounts of personal tragedy and recurrent internecine warfare.

Allman Brothers Band Celebration of the ABB milestone looks to include more than the customary array of special guests for its mid-to-late March 10-night run at The Beacon. Both founding member Gregg Allman and latter day prodigal son Warren Haynes have spoken openly, if a bit close to the vest, about the potential cavalcade of stars, the latter specifically referring to a tribute to the Duane Allman, the ABB's original figurehead, who died tragically, not long after his 25th birthday in 1971.

There are even more back stories to "ABB @ The Beacon 2009"—so many, perhaps, that the music at the heart of the events becomes of almost secondary interest. Due to Greg Allman's recovery from hepatitis- C, there was no 2008 run at the off-Broadway theatre, where The Brothers have taken up residence for a period upwards of 20 years now. In the interim, since their last appearance, The Beacon has been renovated to such an extent that, even more than before, its funky intimacy becomes an object of fascination—before during and after the performances themselves.

Then there's the controversy surrounding ticket sales. At first appearing to be nothing more than the proverbial cluster of interest that has grown as demand has increased in proportion to The Allmans' own visibility since their artistic resurgence in 2003, the widespread shutout of many potential ticket buyers in early 2009 may just be the tip of an iceberg: similar and even more suspicious replays of this jam-up have occurred in sales for Phish, The Dead and Bruce Springsteen. With the announcement of the potential merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation, which comes close on the heels of the suspect purchase of broker TicketsNow by TM, inquiries from Congress and "The Boss" have come into play.

For the true music lover, though, The Allman Brothers at The Beacon comes down to the playing of the band. The repertoire of the group has remained fairly constant over the years, even as personnel has shifted. Still, earlier in the decade—coincident with Haynes' 2002 return to the group and three years after the enlistment of wunderkind guitarist Derek Trucks—there existed an adventurous spirit in the choice and sequencing of songs that was rare in ABB history.

That mindset carried from the 3000+- seat venue into the sheds of summer as acoustic duets between Haynes and Trucks were juxtaposed with Gregg Allman performing suites of choice tunes at the grand piano. Such unpredictable interludes contrasted with high-powered sets from the full band, where extended segues of chestnuts, including "Dreams" and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," would mesh with newer material like "Desdemona" and "Who to Believe," from the classy latter-day studio effort Hittin' the Note (Sanctuary/Peach, 2003). All of the preceding might be wrapped within an intro/outro of The Brothers' signature improvisational vehicle "Mountain Jam."

Then there were the astute cover tunes, such as "Layla" and "Walk on Gilded Splinters," these two usually based on association with Duane Allman and his extensive session work. Yet the sense of novelty has diminished since 2005, both in the spring and on the summer tours, so much so that the prospect of a string of cameos may not necessarily bode well for the kind of sustained momentum that can inevitably conjure up musical drama of the highest order.

But that may be a purist sensibility that's increasingly left behind as The Allman Brothers run at The Beacon becomes less of a hidden secret and more of a mainstream preoccupation. Given the pride at the heart of this unit, particularly in its remaining original members—besides the surviving sibling, drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe—there should be no lack of effort exerted to live up to their legacy this year.

With the utilization of Moogis, a technological advance spearheaded by Trucks that will allow following the shows live on the internet, there's an added sense of The Allman Brothers Band prospering in the modern world at least equal to talk of the group retiring at the top of its game in this its anniversary year. Anticipation may not be all when it comes to live music, but it may be peaking, appropriately enough, for The Allman Brothers at the Beacon Theatre in 2009.


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