Allman Brothers Band, Beacon Theatre, NYC – 3/19
It's 7:30 AM on Friday morning, just about eight hours since The Allman Brothers Band and Eric Clapton invaded and absolutely destroyed the newly renovated Beacon Theater on New York City’s upper west side but I couldn’t wait to write about the show. The fact that Clapton was joining the band on this evening was the worst kept secret in music as evidenced by the prices ticket brokers were charging in the week leading up to the show and the quantity of tickets available on the afternoon of the performance: zero. Getting into the Beacon was a bit more hectic than usual as there was a marked increase in the number of people looking for extras and yet extras were very few and very far between for obvious reasons. As one entered the famed theater, the sense of anticipation and excitement was palpable, infecting the crowd and as the lights dimmed and the band took the stage, the crowd predictably erupted.
It would, and will, be easy to focus on the show’s second set. Any number of reviews and articles will focus on Clapton’s appearance and the sheer insanity that ensued. But to gloss over the first set is to miss an incredibly energetic and exploratory set of music, to say the least, from the Brothers. Beginning with “Little Martha,” the third time this tour that the song opened a show, the band launched into a set of music the likes of which I have not seen the Brothers perform in quite some time. I have had the privilege of seeing The Allman Brothers Band fairly consistently since 1993 or so and I can say confidently that the first set was among the best sets of music I have ever seen this band perform. Clearly, having an international superstar of legendary proportions in the house helps one step up their game.
After finishing “Little Martha,” the band really opened things up with six songs each of which surpassed the previous song in power and intensity. “Statesboro Blues” was excellent and the one-two punch of “Done Somebody Wrong” and “Revival” were both extraordinarily well played with searing solos from both Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks. “Woman Across the River” was incendiary, led by Derek Trucks’ blistering guitar work and an intense solo from Haynes, and “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin” offered even more of the same. Derek Trucks’ slide work has always been amazing and his work on this night should alleviate anyone’s concerns as to whether or not this is one of the greatest guitar players of our generation. As if the set thus far hadn’t been amazing enough, the opening bass line of “Whipping Post” let the crowd know the band was going to end the set in style. I had been overlooking Oteil Burbridge’s bass throughout the evening; it was a bit muddy and was getting lost in the mix. But on “Whipping Post,” he was suddenly clear and vibrant. Gregg Allman’s voice was in fine form all night and “Post” really gave him some room to let loose. I can’t imagine how many times he has sung this song but you wouldn’t know it from the passion and intensity he still puts into it every time. Incredible lead work from both Haynes and Trucks sent the jam atmospheric, however Burbridge's efforts kept demanding attention, as while the guitar solos were both excellent, the song’s MVP was clearly Oteil. Alas, no Clapton, making this the first set this run that featured no guest but nary a soul in the audience cared. The music was that good.
And then, Clapton’s baby blue Stratocaster was set up on the stage. To repeat, it was no secret that Clapton would be joining the bad on this evening but seeing his Strat set up on stage as confirmation was elating. But the crowd would have to wait a bit as Gregg Allman took the stage alone for a run through of the infrequently played “Oncoming Traffic.” The full group joined Gregg on stage for a take on “Come and Go Blues,” forcing the crowd to wait even longer and thus driving the audience's intensity into overdrive. After “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” with Danny Louis, Gregg finally got around to introducing “a real great player and a real wonderful person.” The crowd let loose with an explosive and approving roar. Beginning the mini set with “Key to the Highway,” his presence was felt on a variety of levels. Needless to say, Eric Clapton is a superstar and seeing him play the guitar in any setting is a treat, but seeing him in a venue of such intimacy simply doesn’t happen. The ensemble’s take on “Dreams” was a welcome surprise as it didn’t even occur to me that Eric might be playing Allman tunes (but thankfully I was wrong). While he didn’t lead the band into an explosive crescendo, his solo on “Dreams” was exceptionally good. However, and I cannot stress this enough, the ensuing solo from Derek Trucks was nothing short of frightening. I have no doubt that guitar players throughout the venue shuttered at its completion, shaken by its ferocity and technical perfection. This is guitar work that demands to be heard; the perfect combination of technical proclivity and stunning creativity. The band kept things going with excellent takes on “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” and “Little Wing” before completing the set with “Anyday.” To say the final three songs were as good as the preceding two goes without saying, yet “Dreams” remained the set’s highlight.
As the band returned to the stage for the predictable take on “Layla,” the crowd’s enthusiasm was boiling over. Clapton did his best to sing the song but was overpowered at points by the crowd’s participation. A brief Clapton solo was followed by Trucks’ take on the outtro slide solo which was unfortunately a bit messy but didn’t diminish the evening in any way. The band stood on its own two feet in the first set and performed a brilliant set of music that all fans of the band should hear. To say the second set topped it goes without saying. Eric Clapton’s presence took an already incredible Allman Brothers show into overdrive and left all else behind.