The Allman Brothers Band: New York, NY, March 24th, 2012

Doug Collette By

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The Allman Brothers Band
Beacon Theatre
New York, New York
March 24th, 2012

On this next-to-last night of their 2012 run at The Beacon Theatre, as they have done so often in the past during their 40-year plus history, The Allman Brothers Band proved themselves redoubtable. They not only continued to push themselves out of their comfort zone musically, they responded to the unexpected absence of figurehead Gregg Allman with absolute aplomb.

The namesake of the band had acquitted himself admirably until that point in the second set when he left the stage following a bluesy take on Bob Dylan's "Down Along the Cove." An unusual clutch of compact vocal numbers opened the show, during which Allman demonstrated strength and fluidity, sliding in an out of vocals with confidence and panache.

"Done Somebody Wrong," "Leave My Blues at Home" and "Come & Go Blues" got the band firing on all cylinders, which allowed them to then take flight on bassist Oteil Burbridge's instrumental "Egypt." A breezy piece played with some regularity by ABB in the last couple years, it has not developed much in that interim, but the upbeat transition near the end did offer sharp contrast to the easygoing, melodic exploration that consumes most of the piece.

The deliberate arrangement of "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," led by guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes, began a blues segment that continued with "Commit A Crime." More significantly, by "She Caught the Katy," the Allmans had been joined by Gregg Allman Band pianist Bruce Katz and Wet Willie front man Jimmy Hall, who, similar to his sit-in during the 2010 anniversary shows, took command of the number and the stage with his fevered vocals, wailing harp and energetic stage presence.

The first tune Gregg Allman ever composed for The Brothers appeared next and "Dreams" confirmed this first set to be Haynes' spotlight: his showpiece solo was intense and true to the tune, demonstrating the patience he's learned from guitar partner Derek Trucks over the years they've played together. The latter stepped up on the instrumental coda to "Blackhearted Woman," where the twists and turns of his fretwork absolutely obscured the fact Allman had entirely flubbed the second and third verses of this tune from the Allman Brothers Band debut album (not to mention rendering the female images projected on the video screen stage rear seem not only extraneous but tasteless in their undercurrent of violence). As has often been the case in recent years, the up-tempo riff again morphed into Grateful Dead's "The Other One," a perfectly rousing way to end the set.

In a pre-Beacon run interview, Warren Haynes had announced that the group would be offering an abbreviated acoustic set at the beginning of each show's second half and, true to his word, the group brought out numbers long out of rotation, or in the case of "Dark End of the Street," (recorded on Allman's solo album Searching for Simplicity (550 Music/Epic Records, 1997) new additions to the repertoire. "Old Friend" closed the last Allmans' studio album Hittin' the Note (Peach/Sanctuary, 2003) and sent murmurs through the crowd when Trucks overcame sound quality issues to pick a seething solo. Neil Young's "The Needle and The Damage Done" received the biggest response, however—to the point where the audience sang along, drowning out the musicians' own performance, as was so often the case this rowdy Saturday night, .

A set highlighting the talents of the irrepressible Burbridge began with his lead vocal on another Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter composition "Franklin's Tower" (where Blues Traveler harpist John Popper proved many notes are no substitute for just the right notes). In an exercise of consummate finesse, the septet slipped quietly into estranged guitarist/composer Dickey Betts' "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" from the leisurely first section, then an overt statement of the theme, followed by the septet charging ahead to a drums-and-bass interlude, where Burbridge and New York-based Venezuelan bassist Alvaro Benavides engaged in a mock-duel, from which the former emerged to once again approach the microphone and scat along with his flying fingers. All the while, original Allman Brothers drummer Jaimoe tapped his kit insistently as percussionist Marc Quinones maintained a subliminal rhythm, the sound growing to mammoth proportions when the bassist assumed the seat of charter member/percussionist Butch Trucks at the center of the drum riser—while the latter went to the kettle drum. At that point, the already thunderous rumble grew louder with Burbridge's vicious pounding of the various drums in Trucks' kit.

Guitarist Trucks slipped quietly on stage at this point to conjure up the melodic counterpart of the rhythm, then briefly stuck the theme of another Betts instrumental, "Les Brers in A Minor;" here the ingenuity and intensity that thrilled the audience repeatedly throughout the evening once again manifested itself, not to mention the self-effacing stage presence that has always been a hallmark of Derek Trucks. He made no effort to steal the spotlight, but sought only to move the music along.

With Gregg Allman absent from the stage this entire interval (due to back problems, as it was later announced, that caused him to miss the next night's show entirely), keyboardist Rob Barraco (Dark Star Orchestra, Phil Lesh and Friends) filled in more than admirably to decorate the melody with fluent imagination. Though missing the customary organ solo on this ABB standard, the piece came to a savage conclusion, leaving the packed house in a frenzy as the attendees whooped for more.

"Southbound" is one of a small handful of standard Allman Brother encore choices, but the night of March 24th, it got a twist when Jimmy Hall returned with the group, along with the ever-cheerful Barraco, to not only accent the otherwise nondescript riff with his harp, but bring an uncommon level of feeling to the banal lyrics. If this wasn't the close to a truly great ABB show, it was definitely one of the half-dozen moments that made it memorable.

The Allman Brothers Band never plays better these days than in a venue such as the Beacon Theatre, and it's arguable they never play better, all things being equal, than on this particular stage that they've occupied for over 200 shows since 1989.

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