By: Josh Chasin
ALLMAN BROTHERS OPEN WITH SOLID PERFORMANCE; HUBERT SUMLIN GUESTS, RE-WORKED “THE WEIGHT” IS DEBUTED
But “group telepathy” thing still not quite there…yet.
Opening night of the Beacon run is always exciting. Tonight’s show, as a perusal of the setlist might reveal, is more of a grounded, earthbound show, bluesy, workman-like, gritty, down to business.
Warren is still set up on the left center, next to Gregg; Derek is right center, by Oteil. The band takes the stage, settles in, and finally Gregg revs up “Hot ‘lanta.” The drum section cycles, tumbles forward, in-the-pocket propulsion. Gregg’s B3 solo is a small fire dance; Warren solos, then Derek, a quick yin/yang. Then Warren takes a more exploratory solo, playing with a full-bodied tone; then stinging. The drum section is right there in the moment.
Next, a riff-heavy “Can’t Lose What You Never Had,” with a feel not unlike “Gilded Splinters.” Warren peels off a solo over the insistent riff, finishes all the way up the fretboard, sounding like he couldn’t go any higher. Then “Trouble No More,” Derek playing over the top of Gregg’s vocals on the verse, then taking off on the solo.
Warren exhibits a nice, round tone on “Woman Across the River.” Gregg plays some tasty keyboard, into the vocal section; then Derek plays an exclamation point of a note, ringing like a steel bell, then playing the blues. The band stumbles momentarily during Derek’s solo, then comes together, steps it up, locks in like a vice on the groove behind him, and as Derek hands off to Warren for the next verse the crowd offers their first ovation of the night. The outro is a guitar mash-up, Derek and Warren have come together center stage, its one of those moments where they seem to be playing each other’s guitars. A highlight.
The drummers and rhythm guitars propel a sprightly “Revival.” The song has the new, extended guitar section at the end, Derek is playing lead, with Warren adding a sort of second lead guitar complimenting Derek’s lines. Then back for a final round of “love is everywhere.”
Gregg mentions that the band has a few surprises in store, as Marc begins the tangy percussive playing that will become “Egypt.” The guitars sanctify the space, then a laconic run at the twin licks. The band weaves a hazy sonic space, Derek ventures forth, dripping tone like honey as he offers up some fat slide notes, then moving into a melodic section, then breaking down. Warren enters the space, squeezing and teasing out dollops; he builds to a melodic solo, different from the “Egypt” melody; the band falls in with him, Oteil racing underneath. Oteil suddenly kicks it up a notch, and Warren is drawn physically toward him by the pull of the music; the band falls together around a new melodic direction. Warren has ceased soloing; he is now composing on the fly. Finally Oteil finds a space to hint back at the song; the band hears him, moves back to that hazy spacy place, Marc hits a quick flourish, and they’re back into the twin licks. “Egypt” is becoming one of the best songs in the set.
“Midnight Rider” is next, then “Standback,” which is all about the groove. Then the guitarists offer up some tentative slide notes pre-song, hinting that something new is coming. It is “The Weight,” the Band song also associated with Duane Allman, taken as a sort of Delta-style blues, the harmonies gone. Less Robbie Robertson, more Robert Johnson. Warren sings. Derek slides it up; Warren pulls out a tortured solo into the second verse. Derek wails against the chorus vocals, then a bluesy solo. The song is a stomp, a grind; the grind is in the house. A great set closer.
A short intermission, then the band returns. During intermission at the Beacon, the Allmans have traditionally featured footage of old blues greats, so it is oddly logical to see one of them on stage—Hubert Sumlin. This is the third year in a row he has sat in. “Smokestack Lightning” is long, slow, and snaky, and all about the one chord. Sumlin plays buzz saw licks over the snaky riff. Derek manages to be both minimalist and expansive at the same time. The song vamps on, all three guitarists weaving in and out of the riff, until Sumlin brings it to a close. Sumlin’s opening to “Shake for Me” is straight off a scratchy 45; his deliberate playing of the lead part, and Gregg’s soulful singing, takes us straight to Chicago circa 1959. Toward the end of the song, Warren leads the band down, the music falls mostly away, and Sumlin plays a shaky, staccato solo that is a delight. Next Sumlin plays a slow blues intro to “Sittin’ On Top of the World,” which he sings. Derek moves to take off skyward on his solo, but Sumlin grounds him, staying rooted closely to the old style playing. There is a nice push/pull on all three of these songs, as the other players strain to soar, while Sumlin keeps things in a more traditional pocket.
Next up is “Rocking Horse.” During his solo, Warren explores the subtle textures of playing very, very fast, using speed as coloration. After the hand-off, Derek responds by playing nothing the first few bars, then entering on a slowly building drone that gives way to some Jackson Pollack, John Coltrane-style impressionistic work. “God, that guy’s good,” the guy next to me announces. The band tumbles back into the song, a hard close, but the drums hang in the air out of the song, clearing a space; the other players offer up notes, preparing for…
“Elizabeth Reed.” The members of the front line are all introspective, grooving on a slower take of the song. Warren plays the opening solo part like a cool blue fire. Finally they make their way to the harmony lick, and we’re off. Derek plays his solo with his fingers, slapping out notes, beating the hell out of the guitar. Gregg’s solo is propelled by some nice rhythm work from both guitars. Warren solos, then the music parts like a curtain and we are left with the drums. The drum solo sits right in the pocket, rock steady; Butch and Jaimoe are like one player, Marc accenting and coloring over the top. Oteil comes on for the bass solo and settles in on a funk-inflected lick; the drummers pick it up and fall in with him. Oteil picks up the pace as the rest of the band returns, falls in, and somehow Oteil’s solo riff has morphed seamlessly back into “Elizabeth Reed;” a quick race to the close.
Derek and the rest of the band swing on “Statesboro Blues,” Warren’s slide punctuates “One Way Out.” On the latter, Gregg gets down and testifies on the final vocal section (“I just don’t know…”) The encore is “No One Left to Run With,” and we end the night on a Bo Diddley beat.
It is, with some exceptions, a meat-and-potatoes show; heavy on the straight blues, and a lot of songs with low degree of difficulty (including the final three). But the band has established the running game, and it is exciting to think about what is still to come.
Can’t Lose What You Never Had
Trouble No More
Woman Across the River
Shake for Me*
Sittin’ On Top of the World*
Liz Reed >
One Way Out
No One Left to Run With