Allman Brothers Band, Beacon Theatre, NYC- 3/23
“Gregg Allman acknowledges that he doesn’t read as much as he should. But when a friend gave him a copy of Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, the rocker couldn’t put it down. ‘‘I’ve had it three days and am almost finished, at which time I plan to read it again," the singer and songwriter from the Allman Brothers Band told Glenna Nowell, a retired Maine librarian who asked him what his favorite book” – Nowell as told to the Boston Globe, early 2006
Indeed. Gregg Allman is still many years away from the elusive gates of the Other Side but his band’s majestic arc continues to spin quite a psychedelic web after 37 years. Numerous personnel changes over the decades have shifted the focus of the band’s sound from Southern to country rock to FM radio staples to good ole jamband music to what they are tonight as we enter the Beacon Theatre for a gig during their annual Manhattan residency: the live music yardstick that all other improvisarios are measured against.
Indeed Part II: The Wrath of Linguistic Khan. Tonight, March 23, 2006, there are more rock critics per capita within the confines of the ancient and beautifully wasted elegance of the Beacon than in any area of the globe. This writer couldn’t take a swig of water out of his bottle without knocking over a scribbling scribe from some mutant publicationeven the legendary bounce of one of the scene’s finest stood nearby as we shimmied to the best sounds being played anywhere at anytime within any arena, coliseum, shed, field, barn, garage, basement or rollicking boat on an ocean jam cruise.
The Greatest Rock n’ Roll Band? Let’s leave that to the lazy literary chap, shall we?
Set I – The Band That Time Forgave
The boisterous New York crowd was on its feet before the show even began and hit the stage with a huge staccato roar as the band dove into the wonderwall sound of “Les Bres in A Minor”a ten-minute hot jam featuring a deep, thick West African groove. Allman counted out “Statesboro Blues” and the twin guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks took off into the stratosphere with the Ghost of Fillmore East’s Past, circa March 1971. The 35th anniversary of that momentous New York run was celebrated in the weeks prior as ABB played the landmark live album in its entirety. Tonight, we got a very tasty blend of cross-genre pollination that has served to push the band for nearly four decades. The Bros Allman encapsulate a mood and tone that, like their Live Head brethren, the Dead, has created a genre upon itselfan anti-genre, if you will; and in the Year of Our Lord Garcia, two zero zero six, perhaps, that is the everlasting truth: there is no genre like no genre. The crew of extremely talented veterans featuring original ABBers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks on drums and percussion, Marc Quinones on percussion, bass guitarist Oteil Burbridge, electric axe men Haynes and Trucks are a formidable band of sonic gypsies. In the end as in the beginningthe Mt. Rushmore presence of Allman, seated like a thin, ancient Buddha, embodies definitive *soul music*timeless, raw and genuine.
“Lively bunch, tonight,” laughed a pleased Allman after “Statesboro Blues” roared to a conclusion as his twin guitarists landed on terra firma in perfect sync: Hayneshis guitar ripping notes between the ethereal slide genius that is Derek Trucks; Trucksriding the Haynes wave; peeling and layering colors that enhanced the classic FM radio beast. Allman’s throaty blues vocals on “Come and Go Blues” were a welcome reminder of the man’s epic sprawl and continuing lyrical legend. Before the set, I had spoken with ABB archivist, Kirk West, who felt that Allman was singing quite well these dayslike early 1970s quite well. A small part of my whiskey-frazzled and jam-addled brain aligned with the thought that perhaps this was due to the concentrated focus that the band had after founding member guitarist Dickey Betts departed and the awkward transition which followed before the band once again hit its stride. WellWest wasn’t far off the mark as Allman played organ with equal parts religious fervor and wise restraint mixed with glorious vocals that swam within the currents of the languid flow.
I heard the familiar strands of Captain Tripsour old friend, Jerry Garciaand let out a loud roar to my talented wordsmith friend bouncing near me. “Franklin’s Tower!” I shouted and, lo and behold, with Oteil Burbridge on exquisite vocals, the Brothers pulled the gem out of their heaping tour bag and charged through a ballsy and sublime versionHaynes and Trucks trading and interloping licks with such power that it did feel that, yes, they were building their own invisible tower right there on the Beacon stage. But these were just the echoes of a smoke-filled wookie trip from some 90s Dead Tour and, quickly, the lucid dream raced further outwards as they teased the “Blue Sky” theme in the closing solos, piercing the two songs, groups and timeframes together quite nicely in grand slip, stitch and pass fashion.
“Dreams to Remember” would feature the first appearance of the Gregg Allman and Friends horn sectionJay Collins, tenor sax, Jim Seeley, trumpet and Chris Karlic on baritone sax and they offered a rich Otis Redding vibe. Perfect. The first set would end on a major thunderous peak as the pathos rolled from the stage once Haynes and Trucks hit the opening notes to the Derek and the Dominoes classic, “Layla.” The irony and nod to what wasDuane Allman lent his supernatural chops to arguably Clapton’s finest albumand what will beTrucks with Clapton on tour in 2006was not lost on the crowd as we were lifted off our feet from the first rotating riff of the ode to Mrs. Harrison (and later Mrs. and ex-Mrs. Clapton) to the last Hawaiian motif lick played by Haynes (who also gave a tremendous reading on vocals as all of the lust and pain of unrequited love echoed from the monolithic speakers cradling downstage left and right).
Setbreak Black & White American Blues Folk Festival Film
The film was projected on a screen hovering over the stage and served as yet another touch of timeless synergy for a beautiful Big Apple ABB eve. The wonderful clip looked like it could have been an outtake from the Martin Scorsese documentary on scenemaker, anti-hero, generational ringleader and countercultural godhead, Bob Dylan, No Direction Home, and served to pass the time in perfect harmony with the events that had transpired.
Set II Brokedown Palace
“Just Before the Bullets Fly” began the second set and featured the Gregg Allman and Friends horn section while including guitarist Jimmy Vivino from New York’s Late Show with Conan O’Brien house band. The mood slowly sank into heavy blues as Trucks offered another great mournful slide solo coupled with strong Allman vocals on “Please Come Home,” with the horn section again adding colorful textures followed by a standard version of “Trouble No More.” “The High Cost of Low Living”an adequate bit of radio friendly soul rock with Allman and Haynes on vocals and Trucks playing slow blueswent nowhere fast. The set, at this point, appeared a bit too fractured and kaleidoscopic, echoing a pastiche of styles without a resonating framework.
Alas, I spoke (wrote?) too soon. When in doubt, pull out the veteran gold. “Dreams”my favorite bit of goosebump Allman Brothers musicappeared from a dead start and really took quite awhile to generate much energy as the set’s identity crisis continued, meandering through several avenues before finally hitting its stride as the band continued to swirl within the intoxicating currents of the legendary hook. By the time they had entered the wonderfully familiar terrain of the emotional instrumental conclusion, the set had been elevated to its proper “Brokedown Palace” balancetight but loose, baby.
“Good ole New York,” cracked Allman as the crowd voiced its approval of “Dreams” (and I heaved a long sigh of relief that they had regained their momentum and, actually, created a classic set that had patiently found its muse through unpredictable nuance). [Writer’s Note: according to ABB archivist West, Haynes writes the set lists and Allman has final veto.] “Black Hearted Woman” found the band extremely tight as the decibels increased onwards to a very lengthy three-headed percussion battle that, somehow, never lost conviction or pace. After the triumph of “Dreams,” the drum squad was not about to lose this mighty battle between what works and what doesn’t.
Ahhhh.but that was just a mere prelude. It had been a hell of a long time since I had been so impressed by a band’s lone encore. Then again, these boys be the Allmans and they have been doing this sort of thing for 37 years. “The Same Thing” brought the horn section back out and they delivered their most charging and fully-developed performance of the evening as the band raced again and again over numerous themes while the splendid Warren Haynes led the proceedings on vocals and guitar. Because of his ubiquity and “Hardest Working Man in Show Business” reputation, the Dead Mule Brother is sometimes not given the respect he has earned. Let this serve as that _fact_Haynes is ALL heart, as Cuba Gooding would say, and his chops continue to amaze.
Allman smiled throughout and Trucks rose the roof in a heady nod to Clapton days to comehints of a fall American tour with Slowhand have many in the jamband world salivating in anticipation as 19th Century debtor’s prison awaits. Alas, on this night, even Eric Clapton would have been in front of the stage clapping with the rest of us in a boisterous nod of lengthy approvalcheersthe road goes on forever.
Special thanks to Relix/Jambands.com staff writer Mike Greenhaus who facilitated my Beacon Theatre visit and our site editor, Relix Senior Editor Dean Budnick, who approved the assignment for my first trip to see the Allman Brothers Band in New York. I had seen the band many times in various locales from California to Tennessee but had not had the pleasure to see them in one of their spiritual hometowns. An additional thank you must be sent out to Jambands.com Senior Editor and freelance writer extraordinaire, Jesse Jarnow who helped me question my critical thinking over a drink or two while in the Greatest City on Earth. Next NYC visit? THE JAMMYS!