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Published: 2006/09/27
by John J. Wood

The Allman Brothers Band/Yonder Mountain String Band- 9/1Gov’t Mule/Gregg Allman & Warren Haynes /Yonder Mountain String Band- 9/2Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO</b

Soaking With The Allmans

The Allman Brothers’ latest pilgrimage to Red Rocks brought a pair of unique opportunities for the Colorado Front Range. While it was the last show of the Summer tour, a two-night package was devised, with the second night devoted to Warren Haynes’ "other" band, Gov’t Mule; but with an intimate dose of Gregg Allman to boot! Moreover, these were the only shows of the tour featuring 90-minute opening sets by locals-made-good Yonder Mountain String Band.

Friday evening would wound up presenting a test of will, as Red Rocks were surrounded by large rain clouds throughout, subtly unleashing one of those long rainfalls that while not heavy, soaked through many layers of clothing. Combine that with cool temperatures that plummeted in the low 40s, the conditions produced their share of tribulations.

The Allmans Family feel was evident during the fine 40-minute opening set by Oteil and the Peacemakers. Burbridge brought in a swampy brand of blues-rock with nice tinges of jazz fusion. The highlight of their set was an Oteil-sung cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic, "Manic Depression," which featured an elastic instrumental break with just a touch of Hendrix grit. While perhaps better suited for a club environment, Oteil and his bandmates succeeded in warming up the crowd; despite the rainfall kicking in.

2006 has been Yonder Mountain String Band’s biggest year, yet, and there was plenty of proof at Red Rocks, as they had the majority of the sold-out crowd on their feet and dancing. Near the end of their Summer tour (the band would play a private show at the Boulder Theatre five days later), the Yonder lads’ playing was sharp and direct in a song-oriented set, with a crisp and powerful "East Nashville Easter." The rainfall was already a factor for both audience and band, the latter adjusting very well (but of course, they weren’t as soaked as we were!), concentrating on the songs from the self-titled album on Vanguard Records. Strong versions of the bouncy "Night Out" and banjo player Dave Johnston’s dark "Angel" sandwiched mandolinist Jeff Austin’s earnest nugget "End Of The Day," while the combination of "Fastball" and "How Bout You" worked well on an introduction-to-Yonder scale.

The second half of the 92-minute set featured a typically frenetic "Death Trap," Jeff Austin’s vocal delivery taking a life of its own. After a superb rendition of guitarist Adam Aijala’s "Left Me In A Hole," the Yonder lads gave a brief jamming dose, joining a swirling "Peace Of Mind" into a pair of John Hartford classics; a hyperdrived "Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie" and a playful-but-direct "Two Hits (And The Joint Turned Brown)". Overall, a typically fine-quality Yonder set, albeit of the song serving variety. Unfortunately, any hopes of a Yonder/Allmans collaboration never occurred, as the foursome left Red Rocks and bolted to the Fox Theatre in Boulder to catch Split Lip Rayfield (Kirk Langstrom, you know there are many fans pulling for you!).

The rain continued and had started to affect the stage. The road crew prepared a large steel box structure, then surrounded it with tarps on the sides and on the top; creating a "roof" for Gregg Allman and his organ & keyboards. From there, large holes were cut on the sides so that the players and Gregg could retain eye contact. However, the structure that Warren Haynes would deem "the hut" would prevent some from seeing Gregg Allman, and also prevented others seated to the left side from seeing Jaimoe. My vantage point was 16th row on the right side, so only my view of Gregg was partially blocked, particularly when he was seated at the keyboard for "Statesboro Blues."

For the next 148 minutes, the battle of The Allman Brothers vs. The Cool Colorado Rain was on!

Starting with the fabled twofer of "Don’t Want You No More" and "It’s Not My Cross To Bear", the band’s playing was immediately on stable ground, and Derek Trucks’ first solo on the latter was rich in tone and understatement. A surprisingly straightforward "Southbound" typically cooked with plenty of greasy leads and soupy organ. Back around five years ago at Great Woods, I saw Derek struggle with the call-and-response arrangements of "Revival." On September 1, 2006, Derek owned "Revival", his guitar blooming with one luscious paragraph after another, soaring to several stunning peaks never seen in the 1990s. I can only give an educated guess as to how touring with Eric Clapton has affected Trucks: It has made his playing more disciplined, certain phrases have more emphasis, and there is now a graceful, stunningly mature confidence to a very special guitarist. The band was right there for Derek’s greatness, cooking away like eggs on a griddle.

Oh yeah…there’s Warren Haynes; the original second foil to Gregg Allman, and also the bandleader….and he plays some wailing guitar too. His addition of Howlin’ Wolf’s "Who’s Been Talking" has been a welcome and fitting addition to the Allmans blues repertoire. Warren’s soulful vocal belts were complemented beautifully by some subtle dripping turn-on-a-dime fills by Derek. From New Allman blues to Old Allman blues, Muddy Waters’ "Trouble No More" was loaded with rich, heavy waves of sound, to offset the sheets of rain Mother Nature was unleashing on Red Rocks.

There was more Allman family abound, as Gregg’s son Devon, chimed in on vocals on a straightforward-but-fun "Midnight Rider." However, it was the late Duane Allman that would receive the next nod, as Oteil Burbridge led on vocals in a spirited workout of the Derek & The Dominoes classic "Anyday," which Derek played plenty of times touring with Eric Clapton. Road technician James van der Bogart also took over for Jaimoe on drums, and the song was served well overall. The blues continued its presence, as Warren Haynes’ now-patented take of "The Same Thing" featured plenty of sizzling dual guitar interplay.

By this time, the words "damp" and "cold" were omnipresent at Red Rocks, so the Allmans responded with the superheated grooves of a sprawling "Hot ‘Lanta", followed by a soul-drenched chunky cover of "I Walk On Guided Splinters" with both Gregg and Warren nailing their vocal parts. It was back to old school Allman blues with a typically smoldering "Statesboro Blues," both Derek and Warren coming up with rich phrases clearly their own, yet which pay tribute to their musical "ancestors," Duane Allman and Dickey Betts.

A succulent "Dreams" came next, another showcase for Master Derek, whose solo was laced with numerous Indian influences to take the sextet and 10,000 soaked fans to one of those special places. Perhaps Clapton’s influence is notable here, as never did Derek overplay a single note, miss a single space, and returned to the themes in a surprisingly compact manner. Oh yes, there were several mind-altering moments abound, but the beauty of those were the low-key avenues chosen, those paths very direct to its destination.

Again, the band tapped into the Duane Allman history, with Warren Haynes beautifully playing soul belter and guitar master in a sassy rendition of "The Weight", utilizing the Aretha Franklin arrangement which Duane had played on in her studio recording. It was also the first appearance for two members of Gov’t Mule; as keyboardist Danny Louis — perched in "the hut" next to Gregg Allman — and bassist Andy Hess assisted and effortless locked in with the ensemble in establishing a slinky groove.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Allman show — of any era — without a big instrumental showcase, in this case, a thick and juicy 35-minute "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed," and for all intents and purposes, the third Dickey Betts composition of the evening. Derek’s soloing took up from where he left off on "Dreams," with several sonic forays taken while emphasizing every note, with a richness of tones and spaces utilized to make several eloquent statements. Oh, yes, Warren Haynes had his opportunity to respond with snarling leads containing a fire unlike Mr. Betts during much of the 1990s. Of course, the Allman Brothers Rhythm Machine of the engine that is Butch Trucks, the battery that is Jaimoe and the pistons of Marc Quinones gave a rich lesson in danceable, yet purposeful percussion; then gave way to a tasty bass solo segment by Burbridge. Warren tried to go into the theme to close, but Derek had one more delectable guitar statement to make before the septet brought it all home with a typically triumphant finish. It was during Oteil’s bass solo that Mother Nature nodded to the Allmans, reducing the constant rain to a mild drizzle; which was clearly welcomed at that point.

"Thank you all so much, really" said a sincere Gregg Allman before the band slid into the last Allmans song of Summer 2006, a typically cooking workout of Sonny Boy Williamson’s "One Way Out," with one last dose of the blues to help our souls dry off from the ongoing soaking Mother Nature laid on us.

Who won? Mother Nature made her effects a factor throughout, but the Allmans were hot, Yonder and Oteil were fine, and those who made it through the drenched marathon were the real winners!

Where’s My High and Mighty Mule?

Fortunately, Mother Nature made her statement on Friday night, and while the weather was not tropical, there was a nice cool breeze with the temperatures in the upper-50s. Having talked with a few friendly folks from the Red Rocks staff, they certainly welcomed the change in weather. In terms of attendance, this was not a sellout, but it was a more than respectable turnout (which I would guess was approximately 7000). Also, a treat for some lucky folks was Warren Haynes and David Schools of Widespread Panic playing a couple of acoustic songs at one of the parking lots.

Blues-rock songwriting youngster Jackie Greene and his four-piece band opened with a solid set of songs, several of which contained a noticeable Bob Dylan influence. The 19-year-old Greene alternated between guitar and piano, and the band had a grainy rock side to their playing. While admittedly not familiar with Jackie’s songs, he and his band worked hard on every song, earning a nice response from the crowd after 40 minutes.

With the weather and setting far more welcoming than the previous night, the Yonder lads responded with a set featuring the improvisation side of their personality. After a firm "Sideshow Blues" opener, Jeff introduced "King Ebeneezer" to the crowd, with his vocal rap lighting sparks onstage alone. The Nederland quartet finished off the previous night’s "Peace Of Mind" with a rare reprise. The Beatlesque "Sidewalk Stars" shined, with upright bassist Ben Kaufmann’s vocals handling the opening stanza with a confidence absent six months prior.

It was a combination later in the set where Yonder took off, starting with the soft-but-brief instrumental of "Midwest Gospel Radio", which veered into the typically playful "Ramblin’ In The Rambler." Sandwiched within "Ramblin’" was the meat of the combo, a deliciously crisp "Mother’s Only Son," which to these ears is one of the band’s best "epic" songs. Ben Kaufmann’s vocals were full, hearty and earnest, and the foursome were locked in well during the big instrumental break. It was only natural to finish the "Ramblin’." Dave Johnston offered a brief break, playing guitar on his own fine ballad, "Winds of Fire."

It was clear, though, that Yonder had one more excursion in them, with a fifteen-minute "Snow On The Pines", with their own sinewy "Robot Jam" (with offbeat banjo runs by Dave Johnston) enveloped in its middle; which made its points before swiftly returning to finish the "Snow." This time, Yonder left the stage after 80 minutes, setting up an encore. While "Dear Prudence" is a fine choice as a song itself, this version started sloppy, as Adam Aijala was a bit off on the opening theme (which he quickly laughed off), but finished with plenty of spirit and positive energy. Overall, Yonder Mountain String Band fared very well at Red Rocks with their extended sets; which is really par for the course given how big this year has been for them. Sadly, there were no collaborations between Yonder and Warren, but maybe another time.

After a very efficient stage change came the advertised treat of the weekend: A seven-song 40-minute acoustic set by Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes. While Warren may have been the host, it was Gregg whose star shone. While one could complain of a "repeat" with a "Midnight Rider" opening, this rendition was darker, sparse and more emotional. "Come & Go Blues" was a treat, with Warren playing subtle fills around Gregg’s world-weary vocals. Gregg briefly struggled with a verse on what was otherwise another fine treat, an stripped-down "Old Behind My Time" which had a battle-worn feeling. I was almost surprised to see Gregg refer to a sheet for the lyrics to Robert Johnson’s "Come On In My Kitchen," given that it was a staple at many Allmans shows in the early-to-mid 1990s. The next treat was a tasty "These Days", again with Gregg eschewing a vocal rich in soul, but one that has traveled many hard roads. The final two songs were showcases for both: The Gregg-n-Warren duet of "Soulshine" was warm and spirited, and the duo closed with a pretty "Melissa", marked by Gregg’s surprisingly hearty vocals and Warren’s sensitive guitar accompaniment. The set felt too short, but it was one of those which exemplifies the term, "short but sweet."

Alright, after all that…where’s my Mule?! Oh they were there at Red Rocks, and shot out of the gate with a straightforward and typically bruising "Blind Man In The Dark", with a fine instrumental break to get the quartet in solid footing. The first of the High and Mighty songs, "Unring The Bell" featured a reggae groove clearly new to the Mule, but given the musicianship of Warren Haynes and Matt Abts by reputation alone, it was no surprise how comfortable they were with the groove, with a bit of a stomp behind it. Warren was clearly in a rock mood, and a body-punching "Bad Little Doggie" was abundant with energy and drive, but the quartet kicked it up a notch with a superb, piledriving cover of Led Zeppelin’s "Livin’ Lovin’ Maid." Warren Haynes has always possessed a voice that really lends itself well to 1970s hard rock, and once again he shined on both passionate vocals and biting guitar; which is how "Mr. High and Mighty" fared two songs later.

The next surprise was an enriching soul-based reading of Jimmy Cliff’s ballad, "Many Rivers To Cross," with Danny Louis’ organ comping Warren’s vocals with subtle but engaging fills. With all the new material between High and Mighty, 2004’s Deja Voodoo and Warren’s broad range of covers, the "Thorazine Shuffle" has received less outings as a result. However, this is one song I’ve long felt defines Gov’t Mule, and there were plenty of fine solo segments by Danny Louis’ busy keyboards, then Matt Abts’ power-brimming drums, along with Warren’s typical Mountain-type riffs. Gregg Allman was brought out for his last appearance of the weekend, with fine vocals and piano of an authoritative "Feels So Bad" to cap a superb quality first set. Warren noted the break would be short, which he was not kidding; as he and his bandmates were back onstage not even 20 minutes later.

When I heard "So Weak, So Strong" that night, I wasn’t fully sold on it being a set-opener. However, with its "Kashmir"-like stomp and the way the song builds up, I realized that this is a Mule gem that deserves plenty of plays regardless of position. The "I’m A Ram" – "Love Me Do" sandwich was plenty of fun, and Warren went back to something he did plenty of with the Allmans the previous night, letting his guitar soar mightily to "32/20 Blues."

This was one of those Mule shows where you can argue for a number of songs as highlights. On this night, the argument would not be complete without mentioning the terrific cover of the Seattle one-time supergroup Temple Of The Dog’s anthem, "Hunger Strike," with a side helping of "Dear Mr. Fantasy" in the middle. Warren nailed "Hunger Strike’s" emotions and pathos, and always kept his focus within the song, and it made for a nice segue into Matt Abts’ bone-rattling drum solo.

After tapping into the Mule songbook with a direct-and-honest "No Need To Suffer", Warren steered the Mule into their instrumental take of "Tomorrow Never Knows", with Warren loading up many Beatles songs teases within his envelope filter-ish leads. But, damn it…Where’s My Mule?! Oh…there it is!! This was a straight-to-the-gut no-BS meat-and-potatoes workout, with Matt Abts’ drums snapping off Andy Hess’ slinky bass lines. Danny Louis found room for keyboard stabs around Warren’s thick-as-prime-rib leads. I don’t know if I ever saw a version of "Mule" that didn’t kick its share of booty, and this one certainly did.

However, what was the final butt kicker was a sixteen-minute encore of Neil Young’s infamous "Cortez The Killer," which naturally fits the Mule’s personality. Plenty of fiery solos from Warren, and some superb counterpoint and solos by Danny Louis; augmented by the Abts-Hess team, whom are developing into a heavy rhythm beast of their own. This show was even longer of a marathon than the night before; starting one hour earlier, and when the last notes were played by the Mule at 12:30 am, the night had already elapsed 40 minutes later than the drenched night before.

Despite Mother Nature’s powerful presence, these two nights at Red Rocks provided plenty of musical treats abound. Between the Allmans’ ongoing road that goes on forever, the special musical evolution of Derek Trucks, the constant greatness of Warren Haynes, the continuing successes of Yonder Mountain String Band, and the hard work and sound musicianship of Oteil and the Peacemakers and Jackie Greene; those music lovers who attended both concerts should consider themselves very fortunate to have attended. Not to mention soaked.

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