Allman Brothers Band, HiFi Buys Amphitheater, Atlanta- 8/8
We all know that it takes more than great individual musicians to make a great live band. The very best live acts have a kind of collective consciousness that makes the whole far more than the sum of the parts. When Warren Haynes rejoined the Allman Brothers, they had all the talent they needed to reclaim their title as world's greatest live band. Only time would tell whether that elusive group chemistry would happen, that musical and personal harmony that made the original ABB a force to be reckoned with. After a little over two years together, this lineup has finally realized their vast potential.
Before I get to the main event, let me say a few words in praise of the opening band, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe. When I heard that KDTU was opening for the Allmans this summer, I thought it was an inspired pairing, and this show fulfilled that expectation. I didn't catch all of Karl's set, but heard a great version of the Band Of Gypsys classic Power Of Soul, as well as a great flute solo by Karl and a rousing set-closing rendition of So Satistfied. I was pleased to see that the crowd enjoying the funky Tiny Universe sound, even though at least half of them were still in the parking lot.
I will never understand why the Allman Brothers don't open every Atlanta show with Hotlanta. It's a great song, a great opener, and geographically appropriate. This version ripped from start to finish and injected a great deal of energy into an already amped-up crowd. By the time the band concluded a tight rendition of sing-along staple Statesboro Blues, the Georgia connection had been made and the audience was totally involved and excited. Derek and Warren were both sounding great, but more important, that group cohesion was there. Even though I had enjoyed the previous shows I had seen with this lineup, this was almost like a different band. Something was there that had been missing before.
At no point during the night was this more evident than on Wasted Words, a fairly obscure Allmans tune from the Brothers and Sisters album that sounded positively rejuvenated. Once this show gets into circulation, there will be no reason for anybody to ever listen to the studio version again. Gregg's vocals were strong and confident, and the rhythm section was laying it down. However, the Allmans have always been a guitar band, and it was the exquisite harmony and interplay between Derek and Warren that made this song so special. The extended jam at the end was so rich, so full and powerful, that I stopped dancing and stood in happy, stunned disbelief.
It was time for something a little mellower, and a very well-timed Worried Down With The Blues gave Warren a chance to sing from deep in his soul. Warren is a great guitarist, but his singing is at least as good as his playing. Derek took the first solo, opening with a long sustained note that resonated every molecule in the building before building up to a downright savage slide exhibition. As if to provide contrast, Warren began his solo with a lightning-fast run that was literally quicker than the human ear could follow. Having proved his point, he settled into deep blues with his customary fat tone. This new song rang with intensity and bluesy authenticity, and connected the Allman Brothers' roots to their present.
Midnight Rider is another crowd-pleasing favorite that was met with loud and lusty group participation. Between the gorgeous weather, the great music, and the abundant good vibes, the crowd was slowly being transformed into one of the happiest collections of humans I have ever seen assembled in one place. Warren took a particularly nice solo with a dramatically harmonic turnaround, very sweet stuff.
Much like Wasted Words, Every Hungry Woman is relatively unknown to the casual Allman Brothers fan. Much like Wasted Words, the band gave this song new life and destroyed any previous rendition. That dual guitar harmony was in full, glorious effect on this one, and I found myself freshly amazed at a band that I have seen countless times over the years.
Many people criticize Derek Trucks for his lack of "stage presence." Every Hungry Woman was the first of several times at this show I saw him do something I've never seen before. During the intricate guitar run at the end of the song, he threw his head back dramatically in what seemed like a totally involuntary gesture. My impression at the time was that he seemed as if the music was flowing through him so powerfully that he had no choice but to surrender completely to the energy. This jam must be heard to be believed!
Six songs in, they had blown the crowd out of their socks. It was a perfect time for another laid-back interlude, and Derek's wife Susan Tedeschi came out for a tender take on Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's Alright. This was basically a duet between Derek and Susan, and while it broke the freight-train momentum of the first part of the show, it sounded great.
The special guests continued when Karl Denson joined the band for The Same Thing. It would be an understatement to say this was a change of pace, as they went from tender folk to down-and-dirty funk without missing a beat. Bassist Oteil Burbridge really got to strut his stuff here, after being almost invisible during the first half of the show in the best "team player" sense. Karl's solo was red hot, and the exchange of licks at the end of the song spiralled into a magnificent group jam that provoked a roar from the crowd.
Karl stayed on for Desdemona, taking what would normally be Derek's solo. The song's jazzy middle section is custom-made for saxophone, but I would probably have rather heard Derek, especially the way he was playing this night. Warren's solo was nothing short of awe-inspiring, however. His guitar was wailing and screaming in bluesy agony as Haynes showed the raw strength and aggressiveness that are his trademarks. It's incredible that his guitar didn't burst into flames.
Elizabeth Reed is one of Dickey Betts' signature songs, and I haven't been impressed with the versions I've heard from the band since he left. Like so many things at this show, this was a whole new ballgame. A long spacey intro showcased the newfound telepathy between Warren and Derek, and when the band launched into the song itself the tightness and sheer energy they projected was mind-boggling. Everyone got to take extended solos here, even Gregg's was above and beyond his normal take on Liz Reed. As a drummer, I love long drum solos and this was one of the best I've heard, with a prominent "Other One" tease included. Oteil's musical fluency was clear as he played beautiful versions of Georgia On My Mind and Little Martha during his time in the spotlight.
The band left the stage briefly after Liz, but there was still plenty of time left until curfew, so a long encore was in order. Tiny Universe trumpeter Chris Littlefield and guitarist Vaylor Trucks joined the band for Southbound. Vaylor's fluid yet intense lines and Littlefield's ballsy, brassy tone really added a lot to the song. Similar to The Same Thing, the song ended with a ferocious interplay of musical ideas that built up to a stunning climax. If the show had ended here, I doubt anyway would have left unsatisfied.
However, when the band quickly launched into Mountain Jam it became clear that this was going to be one of THOSE shows. A delicate and elliptical intro set the mood, and when the ABB launched into the main melody riff a wave of energy passed through the crowd, electrifying anybody there with a pulse. Derek stepped out first, taking a solo that was simply beyond adjectives. I hate to cop out of doing my job, but I'll have to let the tapes do the talking here. Current laws of physics may need to be re-evaluated.
When it was Warren's turn, he took a great solo before leading the band into a full-blown Blue Sky jam, which was greeted with yet another deafening explosion of sound from the audience. The band did a wonderful job on this, and between this and Liz Reed, the band represented Dickey's contribution to the Allman Brothers without leaning too heavily on his legacy. Mountain Jam returned like distant thunder rolling across the ocean, and the whole place was throbbing and vibrating with energy by the time it ended.
Then the band left the stage again, and the crowd DEMANDED another song. This was not your perfunctory encore that every jamband does because they are supposed to. This was an encore to keep people from tearing the place apart. This was a "play another song or we ain't leaving" encore. Derek and Warren started off with a little guitar duel, hinting at several different possibilities. How do they top that cataclysmic Mountain Jam?
The answer was clear as the instantly recognizable opening riff to Layla rang out over the crowd. More than anything else they played, this tells you that this version of the Allmans is thinking big. It takes balls to try to top Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, to put it mildly. Warren's soulful, passionate singing made the song his own, and Derek's initial solo was dripping with fiery energy. The real magic began when Gregg pounded out the piano chords of the dreamlike outro jam, which was perfectly played by Derek in a way that probably put a smile on Duane's face, wherever he may be. This lineup has reclaimed their legacy and are worthy of comparison to the original ABB. All other contenders for the title of Heavyweight Champion of Jam take note: The Allman Brothers are back.