Allman Brothers Band, Beacon Theater, NYC- 3/21
NYC ROLL-TOP: Creakin’ at the Beacon
I got so blindingly schnookered on peach margaritas ('cause Dickey woulda wanted it that way) before the last proper gig of the 2005 edition of the Allman Brothers' Beacon Theater revue that — during their first encore, "Southbound" — I didn't even realize that Phish’s Page McConnell was playing keyboards with ‘em until Warren Haynes announced it at the end of the tune. I saw him alrighty — a neatly dressed middle aged dude (that I first took for a beardless Rob Barraco) sitting behind a non-descript keyboard in the corner of the stage — but figured he was just another member of the endless cavalcade of extended family members that occasionally spilled forth from crowds assembled on either side of the amp-line. And I guess he kinda was.
The show had already included drummer Yonrico Scott (subbing for Jaimoe on a mid-second set "Desdemona"), keyboardist Chuck Leavell (joining Gregg to recreate the two-keyboard attack of the albums he recorded with the Allmans in the late '70s), the Asbury Jukes' horns (pumping weighty brass into muscular blues rockers), and some little dude standing in front of bassist Oteil Burbridge playing a washboard during the first set that I swear I didn’t hallucinate (I asked people around me if they had any idea who he was) (they didn’t) and who wasn’t mentioned in any setlists posted online. It didn’t really matter that I didn’t notice McConnell, first, because all night (as usual) the Allmans were doing exactly what they’ve been doing since 1970, and — second — pretty much any musician they would conceivably bring onstage would have been so profoundly influenced by them anyway that he would just sound like a pretty adequate member of a tribute act.
Derek Trucks, on the other hand, was a really grand member of a tribute act — and possibly the single pillar tethering the band from an oblivion of staid blues-rock boogies. While the Allmans haven't had a genuinely new musical idea since their initial psychedelic combustion of polyrhythmic jazz, gospel-sweet guitar melodies, and swampy blues organ, that one notion remains so bottomless, so rich, that it still seems a joyous wellspring. It is in every strand of Trucks' musical DNA, and obvious in every line his clear, bell-like tone cut through the big band murk, snapping iconic songs like "Midnight Rider" and "Statesboro Blues" into sharp focus with the same power that compelled the Allmans to continue following the deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, and the gazillion other addictions, break-ups, shitty albums, and marriages to Cher they've weathered since then.
As always, the blues-rock won out, but when they dropped into the jazzy weirdness — where having two drummers actually makes sense — the Allmans never ceased to amaze. On "Les Brers in A Minor" and "Jessica," the jam centerpieces of the second set, Warren Haynes' sturdy sessionman lines melded with Trucks' explorations. "Egypt," a number debuted earlier on the Beacon run, falls squarely into the category, too. With polishing and confidence, the instrumental could be a hypnotically exotic vehicle for Trucks and Burbridge to tease each other into Sun Ra's domain. Haynes and Trucks opened the second set with an acoustic duet on Duane Allman's "Little Martha," not aired by the Allmans in 12 years. Though, given that most of the crowd probably listens to Eat A Peach more than the band’s recent live sets, it never really seemed gone — ditto for the first set "Blue Sky" (one of the very few songs in the world as perfect as its popularity suggests).
Despite growing up on Long Island and living in Brooklyn, I'd never been to an Allmans' Beacon show before. And, while none of it surprised me particularly — not the guests, the thrumping dinosaur blues thunder, the cosmos-spanning jams, the giant inflatable mushroom in the lobby, Bill Walton bobbing literally head-and-shoulders above the crowd up front, nor the several hundred absolutely snotted businessmen — none of it disappointed me either. It was good, clean fun. I’m sure we’ll all do it again next year.