By: Jeff Miers
On Saturday night, the Allman Brothers Band proved that the blues is a still-viable art form with an astounding, inspired performance at Darien Lake.
With a set that blended the best of the old with a handful of new selections from the band’s forthcoming album, the Brothers made it quite clear that, with or without Dickie Betts, they are one of the finest acts currently touring.
The Allmans are an anomaly in the history of rock, for the group is perhaps the only one still performing that has created a sound so wholly its own, while simultaneously so truly entrenched in the blues idiom. Often, blues acts offer seemingly interchangeable versions of tried and true blues gems, or original compositions that seem to be little more than re-readings of those classics. Not so the Brothers, who have managed to drag delta blues, Muscle Shoals groove and old school R&B kicking and screaming into the new century. Yes, the group is lumped in with the “jam band” circuit; like Phish, Dave Matthews Band and a handful of others, they’ve happily filled the gap left by the dissolution of the Grateful Dead. But the Allmans are truly their own band; no other act has so beautifully captured the twin guitar and Hammond organ-based sound of the deep south and melded it to an improvisational ethic more common to the best jazz groups than rock outfits. Meaning, yeah, these guys can play rings around peers and pretenders alike, but they do it all with beaucoup soul.
Losing founding member Dickie Betts was a blow to the band, but as anyone in attendance Saturday will surely testify, the Brothers have rolled along just fine without him. The twin-guitar attack of Warren Haynes and the “new kid,” the barely post-teen Derek Trucks, is perhaps the finest pairing since the band’s earliest days, when Betts and Duane Allman manned the six-strings. Lord almighty, these cats can play! Trucks, whose Uncle Butch is part of the band’s 3-man percussion section, stole the show; even Haynes, a guitar hero himself, seemed to acknowledge as much. Allman jams are epic in proportion and construction, and go something like this; the verses, sung by leader Gregg Allman or Haynes, give way to lengthy improvised solo sections, wherein the players construct mini “sculptures in air,” while the percussion swirls and circles beneath them. Haynes and Trucks seemed to spur each other on toward new heights with their respective playing, but Trucks offered a sound and style so unique, impeccably constructed, virtuosically performed and creatively paced that the crowd erupted in fervent applause virtually every time he concluded one of his improvisations. The kid is simply incredible to behold.
The set was well-paced and included AB Band staples – “Not My Cross to Bear,” “Trouble No More,” “Midnight Rider,” “Statesboro Blues” – coming with later selections like “Soulshine,” “Good Clean Fun” and a brand spankin’ new instrumental called, inventively enough, “New Instrumental.” Throughout, Allman sang with the blend of soulful vigor and peerless blues chops that has endeared him to audiences for some three decades. Clean and sober, Allman appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself as he manned the mighty Hammond and offered the whiskey-tinged velvet of his vocalisms to an entirely appreciative crowd. The sound, often an issue at Darien Lake, was virtually perfect throughout the evening, a fact all the more pertinent for a band given to extreme dynamics and heady subtleties, as are the Allmans.
In all, an entirely riveting performance from a band with quite the legacy to live up to. See you next summer, boys!