Allman Brothers Band / Galactic, Alltel Pavilion at Walnut Creek, Raleigh, NC- 8/24
The jamband scene represents an exciting new burst of activity on the world musical stage. Great new bands seem to pop up every day, prompting emails and downloads across the country to spread the word. Sometimes in the endless fun of discovering new music, we tend to overlook some of the old school bands, the ones who broke the ground that all the young guys are building on. When the Allman Brothers Band came to Raleigh, NC on a summer Saturday night, their contribution and continued relevance to the scene was more apparent than ever.
There's a slight hesitancy detected when mentioning the Allmans to some folks. It's not out of lack of respect, or enjoyment, but rather the feeling that they know what they sound like, they know all the songs, and they've already been through the experience. But those who attended the Walnut Creek show saw that the vitality of the current lineup, and their inherent power, creates a new style of Allman Brothers show that's simply not to be missed.
Everyone knows the history of the band by now. The motorcycle wrecks, the jams with the Dead, and even Cher gets a chapter in their book. (I was almost positive I'd never write a review that mentioned Cher.) However, the current lineup has flipped the tables on the band's history. While Greg Allman still holds down the majority of the lead vocals, the original members of the band, including Allman on keyboards, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Jai Johanny on drums, plus '90s addition Marc Quinones on percussion, have eased into what amounts to a supporting role for the new guys, the jamband allstars who are now charged with blasting the band into the new century.
Guitarist Warren Haynes first joined the Allman Brothers to complement former lead guitarist Dickey Betts in the early '90s. After leaving several years later with the late bassist Allen Woody to form Gov't Mule, Haynes is now back in the band, taking over Betts' spot as lead soloist. Derek Trucks, guitar wunderkind and nephew of drummer Butch, holds down the other side of the stage, inspiring and challenging Haynes' intensity with his own blues- and raga-flavored fingerwork. Rounding out the trio of "new kids" is bassist Oteil Burbridge, from Col. Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit and Phish keyboardist Page McConnell's new band Vida Blue. Oteil brings a new level of funk to the show, slapping and scatting his way through gritty Southern blues and down-home grooves. With these three in the front row, practically any musician would be relegated to a supporting role, but the older Allmans don't appear to be complaining. On the contrary, the energy and enthusiasm brought to the stage by the youngsters inspires the older guys to play better and harder than they have in a long time. The result is an Allman Brothers Band that quite possibly sounds better than they have in 30 years.
But before the Allmans came out, there was the small matter of a little band called Galactic. The funky ambassadors from New Orleans hit the stage right on time, launching into "Buckit Like a Horse," followed by their tribute to legendary soul-jazz organist "Groove Holmes". It was fun watching the old-time Allmans fans who weren't familiar with Galactic as they realized this was no ordinary opening band. Singer Theryl "The Houseman" deClouet came out for a trio of tunes, his soulful vocals mixing perfectly with the slinky grooves being laid down by the band. Galactic was originally an instrumental band, but with the addition of the Houseman, who typically only sings on a few songs per set, they've expanded into whole new areas of expression and possibility. He brings a new level of authenticity to the band, and let's face it, the ladies love him. Jeff Raines' heavy psychedelic guitar work added yet another dimension to the space-age funk, creating a thick blanket of rock under which the groove could bubble and boil.
After tearing through "Size it Up," Warren Haynes came out to jam on two tracks, fresh from playing next to a promo van in the parking lot for a few lucky fans. Haynes added his trademark ferocious blues guitar to the mix, stopping only for Stanton Moore's drum solo before easing back into the funky blue stew. Moore well earned his reputation as one of the most exciting drummers on the scene. Whereas most drummers simply keep the beat, Moore seems to keep three or four beats at the same time, filling in every hole in the music with drums. His manic style is eternally funky, but his choice of licks always remains tasty. He never substitutes chops for style, only bringing the full brunt of his energy down when the song clearly calls for it. Which in Galactic's case is more often than not. Although too many fans were still enjoying the mysteries of the parking lot, the ones who made it inside for Galactic's set were treated to a delicious appetizer indeed.
The Allman Brothers appeared after a short break, and wasted no time tearing straight into "Don't Want You No More" into "It's Not My Cross to Bear." They continued the "no more" theme with "Trouble No More" and "Ain't Wastin' Time No More," the latter featuring Warren Haynes on a particularly searing slide guitar solo, as well as handling lead vocal duties. The legendary Allman Brothers Band video show came to life during this song, projecting the classic ABB logo alongside colorful explosions and oil-dripped mayhem.
The band really hit their stride with "Worried Down with the Blues," with every band member firing on all cylinders at once. The jamming was thick, and it was clear the band had broken through to the next level. It reminded me in a sense of the latest incarnation of Phil Lesh & Friends, not just because of Haynes, who's in both bands, but rather the style of jamming. Each instrument played its own little part, with everybody sort of soloing together the whole time, each member able to lead the jam into a new place if the inspiration hits.
Next up were "Black Hearted Woman," "Stand Back," and "The High Cost of Low Living." Derek Trucks blazed to the forefront during this progression. We reminisced about seeing Trucks at the same venue 11 years ago. He was barely a teenager at the time, just sitting in with the band. But once he started playing everyone knew what was in store for him. Ben Ellman from Galactic came out to add funky sax to "The Same Thing," which also featured James van de Bogert on drums. Haynes wailed through the vocals as Burbridge and Ellman took intense solos. Ellman started trading licks with both Haynes and Trucks, cooking up a sax sandwich going back and forth between both guitarists. I'd never seen the Allmans with a sax player before, and the amazing amalgam of jazz/blues/rock/funk that emerged has to be heard to be believed.
The catchy mellow groove of "Come and Go Blues" was up next, followed by "Desdemona" and "Woman Across the River." The Allmans were serving up quite an interesting setlist, keeping things fresh and vibrant in a way much different from a set full of hits and standards. Galactic's drummer Stanton Moore and Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed came up on stage to join in for "You Don't Love Me." With three guitars now battling it out, the winner was clearly Warren Haynes, who was soloing as fast and tight as possible, the video screen displaying him by himself with fireballs and meteors shooting past. That's about how it sounded too as he blasted the jam into hyperspace.
Greg Allman then sang about some "good clean fun" as the band raced through "Firing Line" on their way to the next-wave funk of "Rocking Horse." This led into a massive drum solo, as all three drummers exploded for the next ten minutes. As soon as it ended, Oteil Burbridge appeared back on stage alone, taking a beautiful bass solo that touched not only on "Whipping Post" and "Little Martha" but also evoked the beautiful mellow melodicism of his own band The Peacemakers.
Audley Freed, Ben Ellman and Stanton Moore (on Quinones' rig) all came back on stage for the highlight of the evening, the classic "Southbound." With nine musicians on stage trading licks in every different combination, the positive energy and improvisational chaos emanating from the stage was overwhelming. Having played 2 hours with no intermission, they wrapped up the set, returning for the traditional "Whipping Post" encore. It was hard to tell who was working harder, Warren Haynes or the video screen director, as each seemed determine to empty their bag of tricks during the last minutes of the show. Greg Allman sang those classic words, "Sometimes I feel like I've been tied to the whipping post," and as the band wrapped up after almost 3 hours, and endless whippings, I felt that on this night they had truly earned their ointment.