By: Steve Morse
MANSFIELD - A fan sitting next to me couldn't contain himself. ''It's not a summer without the Allman Brothers!'' he shouted. And he was right. The band and its devotees have become as much a summer fixture as Jimmy Buffett's Parrotheads or Ozzy Osbourne's hordes. The Allmans have gone through significant changes in recent years - notably the firing of guitarist Dickey Betts and the hiring of guitar partners Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes - but they continue to put on one of the must-see shows of the summer.
Saturday's concert for 16,500 fans was a tasteful dip into the bluesy side of the band. Songs such as ''Come and Go Blues'' (from the group's legendary ''Brothers and Sisters'' album), ''Woman Across the River'' (a Freddie King tune destined to be on the next Allmans CD), and ''Worried Down With the Blues'' (written by Haynes for his other group, Gov't Mule, though the recording featured four of the Allmans) set the night's heartfelt survivors' tone.
Adding to that legacy were two other new tunes: Gregg Allman's exquisitely sung ''Old Before My Time'' (with the confessional verse of ''that road behind me now is paved with fool's gold'') and the self-explanatory ''High Cost of Low Living,'' which sprang into a concluding jam.
The band still misses Betts's fiery peaks, but doesn't miss his desultory, loose-jammed lows. The group is more consistent now and is breaking new ground with the 23-year-old Trucks (nephew of tireless Allmans drummer Butch Trucks), whose poetic slide-guitar solos provided one highlight after another on Saturday. Trucks, who also emulates some of Betts's shimmering style for tradition's sake, worked well as a complement to Haynes's more muscular, in-the-trenches solos. And they both hit their stride on Allman classics ''Dreams'' and ''Mountain Jam.''
A few songs didn't work as well. Gregg Allman's '' Soul Shine'' was too saccharine, while a new jam known as just ''New Instrumental'' was a long series of riffs in search of a melody. Someone needs to do some editing there. But the show built nicely and the main set ended with a soaring '' Whipping Post'' with Allman and Haynes doing the heavy lifting, much to the crowd's delight.
Opening act Galactic was a treat with its New Orleans-steeped jams and riveting vocals from Theryl deClouet. And when Ben Ellman cranked up his bari sax, the group was unstoppable.