The Allman Brothers Band, Beacon Theater, NYC – 3/18
Photo by Dino Perrucci
Seeing the Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon Theatre in March has become the quintessential experience that says “Early Spring: New York.” The Allmans are adopted New Yorkers for the month, the urban sombrero of rock bands if you will. Seinfeld might have been filmed on a lot in L.A. but no one would argue that everything about the show screamed 90’s New York. It’s no different for the Allmans during this month. They might be a product of the south but what other band can commandeer a theatre for an entire month in New York City? That’s a rhetorical question, and even though no one in the band can claim residency1 at some point when this decade’s long run at the Beacon comes to an end they at least deserve a key to the city and some kind of photo op ceremony during Bloomberg’s fourth term. A mere key to the Beacon Theatre isn’t enough. Simply put, there has never been another band that has quite laid claim to New York in the manner that they have.
And so it was on the first warm spring like day after an endless New York winter that the current incarnation of the Allman Brothers held court in the middle of their thirteen night run at the venerable theatre. It was my first trip to the Beacon since Madison Square Garden inc. pumped 10 million dollars into its restoration. It must be said that the Dolan family got this one right, it was very well done effort, reintroducing an element of grandeur back to the old theatre and eliminating some of its, well, skank. Two out of Five ain’t bad2.
There are a lot of things that are kind of strange and refreshing at the same time about seeing the Allmans in 2011. For an act that has clearly in its denouement they have never devolved into a nostalgic shtick, a serendipitous byproduct of the turnover wrought by the turmoil of the nineties. They have evolved more like a jazz band than a classic rock act, their style an anachronism with multiple guitar solos in each song. Clearly the zeitgeist has shifted away from this kind of brawny riffs, bluesy solos, turn it up to eleven approach to rock and that is precisely what makes taking in an Allman Brothers show so liberating. For just a night you can unselfconsciously rock out, trends be damned.
The night’s rendition of “Walking on Guilded Splinters” was the first go at a song that encapsulated this perfectly, a percussive dirge that served as a showcase for the considerable talents of Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, taking turns on swirling, loud solos. They complement each other perfectly, Trucks knifing out run after run, sans pick, his fingers coordinated with the precision of a surgeon, while Haynes has a slinkier and more fluid feel to his playing. His fingers appear to move in slow motion over the fret board, which belies the torrent of notes that emanate from his Les Paul.
Special guests have increasingly become the order of the day as their approach to the annual Beacon run has evolved. Susan Tedeschi came out midway through the first set leading the band through “Coming Home” and “That Did It.” Everything about her, from her voice, to her guitar playing to her demeanor screams the blues. Has there ever been a musical couple that was fated to find each other more so than her and Mr. Trucks?
Right after Tedeschi threatened to steal the show John Scofield came out and warmed up with a cover of Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” that probably belonged in sound check. However, if ever there were an Allman Brothers tune meant to host John Scofield, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” is it. His jazzy twang meshed perfectly with the ethos of the longtime Allmans staple.
“Dreams,” which opened the second set, might just be the most criminally underrated song in the pantheon of classic rock gods. There is nothing new or revelatory about it, essentially it hasn’t changed since its debut some forty years ago. Regardless, I will die a happy man having witnessed Derek Trucks take hold of this song. Taking it for two spins during the “big guitar solo” section of the song, one with his unique style of finger picking and one on slide guitar, he is the rare artist that can hold a room captive to every note. I had to send a couple of confessional text messages to my wife after “Dreams,” just to make my feelings for Trucks clear to her before I returned home. “44 Blues” did nothing to quell this later on in the set, Truck’s fiery, slide driven playing built to a crescendo that contrasted wonderfully with the slow blues stomp led by Haynes.
Scofield rejoined the group for a set closing “Mountain Jam” which was really just an excuse for three phenomenally talented players to stretch out again. The first portion featured some interesting chording from Scofield that took the song in a jazzier than usual direction, just about what you’d expect with his involvement. “Mountain Jam” was only marred by the thirteen minute drum solo slammed into the middle that killed the momentum before the full band returned.
Tedeschi and Junior Mac, a guitar player from drummer Jaimoe’s Jassz Band, came out for the encore, “One Way Out,” which seemed very perfunctory and was missing Derek Trucks which only added further to the sense that the night has kind of petered out a little bit.
You can forgive the Allman Brothers for that though, just based on effort and longevity alone they’ve earned it.
If you’re keeping score at home that’s Radio City Music Hall and the Beacon theatre in the plus category. The Knicks, Rangers, and Optimum family of products fall into the minus.