A Fan's View & A Critic's View
Sitting in the Beacon Theatre on my birthday 2003, I had no idea the rock and roll epiphany I was about to experience. This band I had listened to for upwards of 30 years was about to remind me why I learned to love hearing them play and continued to for so long. Before this night and the next were over, The Allman Brothers circa 2003 gave me more reasons to rediscover them than I had dared anticipate.
The ABB came out swinging like a fighter determined to prove he still had all his punches. With their self-made classics in rapid fire sequence---'Done Somebody Wrong,' "Don't Keep Me Wonderin', " and 'Ain't Wastin' Time No More''the band upped the standard of even recent years mainly by dint of the guitar work of Derk Trucks and Warren Haynes: sterling enough in the contrast of slide styles on the latter tune, it was the tandem harmony work on 'Wonderin'' that confirmed the thought that, as a team, the two had become the equal of Duane and Dickey in their own prime. A startling admission to say the least
The night eventually belonged to the guitarists and only a slightly lesser extent the namesake of the band. Fighting his demons over the years had apparently made Gregg stronger because he was wailing much as he did when the first Allmans lp came out in 1969 when he sang 'Trouble No More.' The depth that his voice has gained over the years was apparent too on 'Leave My Blues at Home' from Idlewild South , but it was really on new material like the sultry 'Desdemona' that his delivery and his phrasing shone he can now croon as credibly as he growls.
The Latin-flavored instrumental interlude on the latter tune presented another reminder of the retooled jazz influences of the current ABB lineup. With the country leanings having left with Betts, all the new blood, Trucks, Haynes and wunderkind bassist Oteil Burbridge, have a broad jazz vocabulary and an eloquence in using it that puts this band in a category far above that of a mere jamband. The extended soloing on 'Dreams,' the intensity rising throughout the band with each transition, followed 'Southbound' which had been transformed by a horn arrangement as if written expressly for it, and set the audience to whooping just prior to the group's workout on their new warhorse 'Instrumental Illness,' the stretching of which left the studio version hollow.
As if these two sets didn't already size up to be the Allman Brothers show you'd most want to see as a diehard fan, the band encored with a flaming version of Derek & the Dominos "'Layla,"' as much a tribute to their late producer Tom Dowd as Warren's rendition of Van Morrison's "'Into The Mystic"' served as homage to Bill Graham; if Derek''s early notes of the rideout to the tune seemed tentative, it was excusable since a palpable recognition of the true source of this song choice' late Brother Duane Allman' was evident in the audience.
Short reflection on the concert provided some second thoughts on whether the Allmans actually sounded as magnificent as they did or whether my love for the sound of the band elevated the sensation in my own mind: were they just replicating it or were they in fact nailing the vigorous rhythmic attack overlaid with guitar work that sung as often as it stung? And was Gregg himself really that strong a singer still?
Next night's show erased all doubts, albeit in an unusual way. Whereas March 21st was a virtually litany of 'hits' interspersed with some well chosen covers like Howlin' Wolf's '"Forty Four Blues"' and Muddy Waters' '"The Same Thing,"' (not to mention a poignant reading of Sam Cooke''s '"A Change is Gonna Come'" by Gregg), this night the band worked in reverse, experimenting to a great degree, with staples of the repertoire sequenced in just such a way to maintain a powerful momentum no matter the tangent. So it was that 'Statesboro Blues' and 'Blackhearted Woman' launched the band(and the audience) before Gov't Mule's 'Banks of the Deep End' led to new numbers 'Maydell' and 'Rockin' Horse' while 'Please Call Home' was adorned with horns. Hearing Haynes sing 'I've Been Loving You Too Long'(with Jaimoe as the sole drummer and an expressive one at that) brought to mind the description of the Allmans as a jazz orchestra, but no more so than the blazing '"Come & Go Blues"' and most especially, the way the band snuck their way into "'In Memory of Elizabeth Reed':" Warren Haynes' orchestration of this performance, as he brought the sound down to a whisper, lifted it back into its roaring finale and in between engaged in some absolutely sublime call and response with Oteil, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt The Allman Brothers were at the peak of their powers. Slashing their way through an encore of 'One Way Out' left no second thoughts in many of the audience---I've never enjoyed being a fan of any band as much as I enjoy being a fan of the Allman Brothers Band right now.I
The Allman Brothers Band celebrates its 35th anniversary in 2003 and f you''ve had the pleasure of seeing the sextet in concert over the last year or so, you probably came away convinced they are practically as great a rock and roll band now as they've ever been in the entire course of their history. The momentum the group generated in 2003 alone consolidated the gains derived from the gradual injection of new blood into the band over the last few years. ABB has now reached a point where their legacy overshadows their myth.
Over a decade ago, The Allman Brothers Band settled into a groove in which they played an annual run of shows at the Beacon Theater in New York city in the spring, followed by a regular summer tour of sheds and pavilions across the United States and Canada. The intimacy of the Beacon shows allowed the group to gauge the audience response by road-testing tunes, arrangements and experiments. In so doing, the band could determine what works best in the larger venues. And while this approach suggests something of a scientific method, based on the lengthy satisfying set the group played at the Tweeter Center July 13th, it certainly doesn't preclude surprises. How else but startling can you describe a group with as much history as the Allmans, opening their set with 'Layla.' a tune as much or more archetypal than their best own known? Young guitarist Derek Trucks garnered the first of many rounds of well-deserved applause for his poignant playing on the coda, accompanied with equal taste by Gregg Allman on piano. And if the latter arrangement sounds unusual, it's not much more so than the jaunty means by which Allman now sings 'Ain't Wastin' Time No More': less wistful than resolute, Gregg's throaty singing was replete with the authority and soul he displayed all evening (even if some of it was drowned out by the crowd singalong?!).
Gregg, and to a slightly lesser extent guitarist/songwriter Warren Haynes, were effusive in their gratitude for the knowledgeable appreciation of the near-capacity crowd at the open-air shed on this gorgeous full-moonlit night. The audience response to the drums and percussion segment near set's end was a fully justified ovation, but the display put on by Jaimoe, Butch Trucks and Marc Quinones, was simply their turn to exhibit, with just the right amount of restraint, their own technical expertise combined with a unity that seems to be continuing to solidify amongst this lineup of Allman Brothers, now stable for two years running. The guitar call and response enacted between Trucks and Haynes at the close of "'Woman Across the River'" is as full a display of their chemistry as the tandem guitar riffing of '"Every Hungry Woman.'" And the sight of Allman playing acoustic guitar to 'Melissa,' with Haynes directly to his left, ushering along an understated electric lead, equal parts country and blues (remember he once played for country outlaw David Allen Coe), is yet another sign of the camaraderie underlying this group's musical and personal relationships.
It's quite clear that Warren directs much of the on-stage interaction of the current lineup. And it's not just his extended solo interludes such as the ghostly version of '"Good Morning Little Schoolgirl"' or even the coarse, gritty intensity with which he played his solo section of '"Dreams;'" if it's true that the precocious Trucks' embodies the spirit of adventure of this group---the hallmark of the best music ABB has always made'then it's Haynes grasp of the roots of their music in traditional blues as well as English hard rock, plus his seasoned craftsmanship, that has helped restored the balance of the band. Warren has matured greatly over the last couple years and most significantly in the increasing intricacy of his guitar work. It's no coincidence that he's worked with Trucks most during that time, but that's not to diminish Haynes' own influence on Trucks, the intensity of whose playing has increased dramatically since working with Warren. The young guitarslinger nevertheless refuses to take the predictable means on his own solos: he began his spotlight on '"Dreams"' in a middle-eastern mode before nailing the original fiery slide climax not once but twice.
The set progressed as if designed to demonstrate the power of the current Allman Brothers in a variety of ways. Compact renditions of familiar songs such as '"Midnight Rider"' gave way to exploratory versions of brand-new songs such as '"Desdemona,"' from the splendid studio cd Hittin' The Note; the breezy Latino jazz of the middle-section of that song reappears in the band's new signature tune 'Instrumental Illness,' the expansive take on which transcended the studio take and most previous live versions. And to hear Oteil Burbridge then let loose the rumbling bass intro to '"Whipping Post"' with twice the authority he displayed last year (and with at least as much additional clarity in the overall sound for the pavilion), is as clear an indication of the continuing evolution of The Allman Brothers Band as you could possibly hear: just as the old and new personnel coexist and prosper, so does the new and old material contrast to equally impressive effect.