Allman Brothers Band, Beacon Theater, NYC- 3/26
There are veterans and those new to the Allman Brothers Band, those who are walking into the venue to see their hundredth show and others who are going for their first. When seeing the Brothers at the Beacon, however, the level of excitement is the same for both groups who are fully aware what the band is capable of in the theater where it is so comfortable.
March 26th was the tenth show of the thirteen-show run. There is a possibility that when a band plays thirteen shows at one venue with only a maximum of one day off between shows, there might be something lost, but the excitement for this Wednesday show was only heightened by the shows that had preceded it. I had been hesitant about going to one of the Beacon shows but the first night setlist grabbed my attention. As I started checking the lists for nights that followed and read what others had to say about the shows, I knew I had to see one for myself. When I bought my tickets two days before the 26th, fifty-six songs had been played in the previous eight shows. And nine different songs played during the Beacon run had never been played by the Allman Brothers Band before.
At most any Allman Brothers show now you can hear murmurs and criticisms referring to the departure of the band’s original guitarist Dickey Betts. Now, I will not attempt to say that Dickey is not a great guitarist, but the present lineup is playing some of the best music in the band’s long history. The chemistry is there, especially with the band’s two guitarists Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, two of the finest on the scene today. And not only are they good, but they are good for the band’s sound. Every band member of the septet knows when to take his turn in the spotlight and when to let someone else have his turn, as happened on March 26th at the Beacon Theater.
The band had an amazing dialogue going with the audience. The conversation started immediately with the opener of the show, "Stand Back." Not only did this song set a tone with a blistering guitar dueling between Haynes and Trucks, but it told the crowd to prepare for a show filled with raw emotion and power. It was "Wasted Words" though that got the ball rolling not only for the band, but for the audience as well. Before the opening night of the Beacon run, "Wasted Words" had not been played in nineteen years.
The drum intro of the next song captivated the crowd and when Derek Trucks ripped into the intro shortly after, "Trouble No More" was off like a speeding train. It was Trucks who was the driving force behind the song. The shy twenty-three-year old is capable of slide playing comparable to that of the late great Duane Allman. It is not in Derek’s nature to be flashy, and he does not make eye contact with the audience, but the contact he is capable of with slide guitar playing is enough to make him great, and the rest will surely come.
I have seen the Allman Brothers accompanied by a horn section once before, and it is an amazing juxtaposition of grit and soul. When the horn section of Gregg’s solo project emerged, and the band began "Change is Gonna Come" the balance was there. Warren’s playing is rough around the edges, only because he plays with such bluesy emotion that when he plays it is raw. This was juxtaposed effectively with the smooth bass playing of Oteil Burbridge and the soulful nature of the horn section. Gregg sang the Sam Cooke song passionately, and with current events being what they are, the song touched everyone in the audience, just another example of how the band is capable of pulling the audience into the world which the band creates.
Following the second song off the new album, "Maydell," "Desdemona" came next and led to some of the most diverse playing of the night. It was during "Desdemona" that the connection between the two guitar players, as well as the entire band, was most evident. Although it is Gregg’s vocals that originally set the pace for the song, it is Derek who grabbed the reins playing a furious slide solo, passing back and forth to his left as Warren added his own style, as did each member in turn. The rhythm section followed as Oteil lays down a smooth jazz bassline; with Butch Trucks leading the percussion section. The song took a dramatic turn, and before you knew it we were back to the fast playing of Derek and then into the song’s main theme. It was exhausting.
The horn section reemerged for "The Same Thing" and this time the horns were much more prominent in the mix, adding more to Oteil’s active playing as it was on this tune that he stood out, showing his ability as a player covering the entire fretboard. As Oteil went back into the mix, the beat carried by the drummers was bigger than at any time before, which led to hard jamming, centered around the efforts of the horn players.
"Instrumental Illness," like "Desdemona," crosses many genres and has a part for every member of the band. Marc Quinones came across clearly on this song, more than any other of the night, adding his own Latin percussion feel. What stood out for me was that the band could get back on track for a finish without coming to a screeching halt, or worse go crashing right into a wall. When moving at a pace that "Instrumental Illness" demands that is difficult to avoid, but the band moved into what was set break perfectly.
A fitting "Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More" open the second set, followed by "Black Hearted Woman" and then the band performed one of the two highlights of the second set- "Statesboro Blues." From the vocals to the guitars this song has something for everyone. If anyone did not notice the power of Gregg’s vocals or the amazing dueling guitars before then, it was in "Statesboro Blues" where these elements of the ABB’s sound became manifest. This also held true for "Whipping Post" which later closed the night with its hauntingly familiar bass line. The guitar parts roared, and Gregg bellowed out the unmistakable lyrics as most of the crowd shouted along with him.
As for the encore, Derek flew into "Layla," which debuted earlier in the run. Although most associate the song with Eric Clapton, Duane's role is never forgotten, especially by fans of the Allman Brothers. When the band stumbled slightly as Gregg faltered briefly on the keyboard part, Derek was right there on the slide to keep everything secure and to elevate, demonstrating the spirit of the Allman Brothers Band.