By: Dave Fennessy
Pittsburgh Daily News
For the past decade or so, an Allman Brothers Band concert has amounted to something of an “oldies” show, where established hits get replayed and often reinterpreted, depending on the shifting configuration of the band on any given tour.
Not to imply that’s a bad thing.
With solid Hall-of-Fame credentials under their collective belt and an extensive catalogue of sweet southern blues at their fingertips, the Allmans never lack for variety or creativity.
Who can complain about a setlist that potentially might include classics such as “Ramblin’ Man,” “Statesboro Blues,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Whipping Post” all on the same night?
Those songs, plus a playlist of several dozen others besides, have kept ABB on the road – and a fiercely loyal fanbase in the seats, or at least dancing in the aisle beside them – for the better part of 33 years now.
Many bands that have been around for even half as long often are content to recycle material that put them in the spotlight in the first place and once appeared to be the case with the Allmans.
That looked especially true after the ABB and co-founder Dickey Betts, one of the band’s two most prolific songwriters, had a particularly acrimonious parting of company two years ago.
But rather than stemming the inspirational flow, Betts’ departure seems to have sparked a revival (no pun intended) of creative energy among the remaining Brothers.
So while, as usual, ABB put a rich cross section of classics on aural display at Post-Gazette Pavilion Friday, the setlist contained a handful of brand new songs, too.
And if they are indicative of the rest of the material the Brothers reportedly have captured in the studio in recent months, the forthcoming Allmans’ CD won’t have to take a back seat to any of the band’s better-known and best-loved music.
That’s due to a bunch of reasons, not the least being that ABB’s other longtime songwriter and band patriarch Greg Allman hasn’t gone anywhere.
His fingerprints – as well as his soulful whiskey-smooth baritone – are all over “Desdemona,” the first of the new tunes the Allmans trotted out for the Burgettstown audience.
It rises up from the primordal ooze of roots blues before, in trademark Allman Brothers fashion, transfiguring into an animated, up-tempo conversation between Derek Trucks, the 19-year-old slide virtuoso, and Warren Haynes, perhaps the most versatile and certainly the hardest-working guitarist in the jamband universe.
Trucks and Haynes are two more good reasons why ABB is feeling frisky in the studio as well as on stage these days.
Trucks not only has literal blood ties to the Brothers – he’s the nephew of drummer Butch Trucks, one of three original Allmans still in the lineup – but his style is a direct descendant of the late Duane Allman, who took bottleneck guitar to a new and still rarely ascended level when he was pioneering the Southern Rock genre three-plus decades ago.
Haynes, who left ABB in 1999 because, ironically, the other Brothers were reluctant to incorporate new material into the mix, is back. He’s brought a slew of new experience along with him, including stints with his own Gov’t Mule, as well as his other regular gig as one of Phil Lesh’s “Friends.”
Together, Trucks and Haynes have revived the Allmans’ twin-guitar legacy and restored it to the lofty heights they achieved when Betts and Duane Allman were sharing leads and trading licks.
Their interplay and Greg Allman’s vocals also fueled “Firing Line,” an up-tempo blues rocker that made its Western Pennsylvania debut Friday, and an as-yet-untitled instrumental the Brothers have been playing almost every night since introducing it at the band’s annual winter run in New York’s Beacon Theater.
But from an opening “One Way Out” to the encore “Mountain Jam,” the meat of the show remained the “oldies.”
The 16-song set included such gems as “Done Somebody Wrong,” “Come and Go Blues,” “No One to Run With,” “End of the Line,” “Soulshine” and, of course, “Statesboro Blues,” with Haynes contributing “Woman Across the River” and “Rocking Horse,” and the entire band kicking it up several notches for an always-exquisite “Dreams.”
ABB was joined on stage by Galactic saxophonist Ben Ellman for “Been Loving You Too Long.” Ellman stayed around for “Southbound,” which also featured Mississippi All-Stars guitarist Luther Dickenson.