By: Jack Leaver
For the Muskegon Chronicle
The Allman Brothers Band is kind of like the Energizer Bunny. It just keeps going, and going and going. The forefathers of Southern Rock brought its distinctively blues-based sound to the Muskegon Summer Celebration Thursday night, July 3, giving a standing and dancing crowd of 14,000 its money’s worth.
With a rich history of over 30 years together, the Allmans are an institution in rock. While the only original members left are vocalist and keyboardist Gregg Allman, and drummers Butch Trucks and Johnny “Jaimoe” Johanson, the band has survived and is running strong.
Enduring the tragic deaths of guitarist Duane Allman and bassist Barry Oakley in the early 1970s, and then a series of breakups and personal problems, including the firing of founding guitarist Dickie Betts two years ago, the Allman Brothers Band proved that it can still deliver the goods.
While the absence of Betts is indeed felt– most notably in such standout songs as “Jessica,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Blue Sky” — the current seven-piece lineup plays with passion and conviction, which the Allmans displayed in its marathon two and a half hour show Thursday.
The early career song “You Don’t Love Me,” a breezy instrumental, beautifully showcased the dual guitar attack of Butch Trucks’ 25-year-old son Derek and Warren Haynes. As the song segued into the down and dirty blues of “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” it was immediately clear that Gregg Allman had not lost a bit of his whiskey-drenched vocal prowess.
Launching into the classic Blind Willie McTell standard “Statesboro Blues,” the band set the stage to include some strong new material from its latest 2003 release “Hittin’ The Note.” The tough-fisted “Firing Line” came early in the show and effectively connected the Allmans’ devotion to traditional blues with a modern groove-oriented sound.
Old favorites, such as the lonesome “Midnight Rider,” and “Wasted Words,” kept the crowd on its feet, as the band played in front of a psychedelic video screen backdrop, which displayed several ’60s-inspired images, including the Allmans’ trademark “magic mushroom” art work.
Throughout the evening, the highlight of the Allman Brothers’ show, would prove to be the guitar interplay of Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes. The young Truck evoked the spirit of the late Duane many times in his fluid slide work and the veteran Haynes is simply a monster, pulling marvelous tone out of his Gibson Les Paul.
Bassist Oteil Burbridge showed remarkable versatility on his five string, most notably on the long-winded classic “Southbound,” where he played a wild solo, which included a snippet of the theme from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
The best, however, had to be the new song “Desdemona,” a slow-burn blues, demonstrating that Gregg Allman’s hard living hasn’t killed the voice of one of the best singers in rock history. The song’s double-time instrumental break was classic Allmans, reminiscent of the band’s “Live at the Fillmore” period.
The Allman Brothers closed the night with a muscular version of its gritty chestnut “One Way Out,” so forceful and commanding that the exclusion of such crowd-pleasers as “Whipping Post” was only a small disappointment.