Dickey Betts Band- Fleet Boston Pavilion, Boston 7/15
It isn't too often that an opening band truly upstages the headliner, but that may have been the case when Dickey Betts rolled out his new solo project for a still-arriving crowd as the opener for The Doobie Brothers. With a cloudy sky but no rain, and comfortable temperatures, it wasn't a bad night to be at the small pavilion, essentially a tent along the harbor in downtown Boston. Many hardcore Dickey Betts fans were in their seats before the show began, while the bulk of the attendees stalked the beer stands and woofed down expensive hot dogs and sandwiches, oblivious to the return of the ex-Allman for what was only his second post-ejection solo show in the area, the last being a sold out club gig at Avalon, also in Boston. Looking slim and alert, wearing his trademark jeans, denim vest, and cowboy hat, Dickey and his band (numbering seven in all; two drummers, sax, bass, keys, and another singing guitarist, Mark May) blew out both tunes from his new solo effort, ironically titled Let's get together, as well as Allman Brothers chestnuts like "Jessica" and the impressive "Blue Sky", which came complete with the Grateful Dead "Franklin's Tower" instrumental segment, commonly played by The ABB in recent years, tacked on as the intro. A new bilingual Latin-rock flavored jam from the album, "Dona Maria", kicked up dirt in the "Oyo Como Va" and "In memory of Elizabeth Reed" vein, with the catchy, building chorus "I'm coming to set you free" capturing the Santana-esque vibe of the song. The drummers had more than adequate access to percussion, and took advantage of it during several solo sections in the climactic number, which may have been the highpoint of his set. "Ramblin' Man" aptly closed the roaring performance, as it was clear even without The Allman Brothers, Dickey Betts carries the sound with him. The guitar twang that gave The Brothers their unique niche so many years ago is alive and kicking today as Betts somehow encapsulates enough of that tone to make a convincing argument again as a solo artist. The crowd had mostly filled in by his set closer, and their standing ovation seemed heartfelt, and bore the signs of an impressed audience.
Opening up with their crusty road anthem "Rockin' down the highway", the latest incarnation of The Doobie Brothers (with Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston handling guitars and vocals, and sans keyboardist/vocalist Michael McDonald) rolled out mostly hits and a handful of new tunes during their well-attended set. "Jesus is just alright" kept the familiarity level high and the seat-inclined middle-aged crowd standing. Having to work in some new material as well, Tom Johnston's "People gotta love again" from the current Sibling Rivalry reinforced the old school Doobies message of peace and harmony with it's lyrical refrain of "The world is watching; look at the shape we're in; there ain't no doubt about it, people gotta love again." The cut featured a sizzling violin solo by bassist/multi-instrumentalist John McFee (who played in the seventies act Clover, with, among others, a young Hughie Lewis). Selections from the mid-point in their career included "The Doctor" and "Dangerous", as clouds threatened rain, but instead the sky delivered light cherry-red clouds that added a surreal roof over the Boston skyline backdrop.After a momentum-ending, uneventful acoustic set, dedicated to drummer Michael Hossack (recently injured and sidelined due to a motorcycle accident), the hit parade continued with "Takin' it to the streets", "Take me in your arms (rock me a little while)", and a rollicking cover of "Sonny Boy" Williamson's "Don't start me to talkin'" (which appears on Doobies big seller Toulouse Street). That cut was sent out to Dickey Betts, whose name came up often on stage, as the elder guitar warrior was relentlessly praised and appreciated for his appearance on the tour. While the Doobie Brothers appeared to extend the 'jam branch' in an offer to play, inviting Betts to join them, he never did. The San Jose eight-piece had a minimalist presentation, with the exception of flashy bassist Skylark's illuminated fretboard, and put the music front and center; a heavy guitar mix gave them a road-hog sound their grizzled image suggested. "Black water" and "Long train runnin'" wrapped the set, with extended drum, percussion, and bass workouts ala The Allmans, or Santana in the later track, coming off as authentic when compared to live Doobie Brothers concerts from twenty-five years ago. The encore brought "China Grove" and "Listen to the music." It was an interesting bill, and daring for The Doobie Brothers, as Dickey Betts is clearly still on fire, and whether or not he's managed to get his personal life under control, his charisma, highly recognizable sound, and forceful stage presence are undeniable and make for an entertaining show. Having a bit more time to hone the inter-band relationships with his new group should bring even better results. It's a promising venture worth keeping an eye on and made this concert a real double-header.