By: Josh Chasin
A celebration of the past
The Allman Brothers Band is as conscious of their own history as any band I can think of. Consider the songs they’ve added to the repertoire over the past few years: “Gilded Splinters,” four from the Layla album, “The Weight”—all songs associated with founding member Duane Allman. That’s not a coincidence. And too, more than almost every other act of similar magnitude, they do things first and foremost for their fans– the avid fans. These gestures to the band’s history do not fall on deaf ears; they fall on appreciative ears, on loving ears.
So when they take the stage Monday night, 35 years to the day after the Live at the Fillmore East album was recorded, the house at the Beacon is already abuzz; they are going to recreate that record, song-for-song. (Of course the buzz also says Mick Jagger will show up to sing “Heart of Stone.” You can’t always trust the buzz.) So when the lights go down, and the band rips into “Statesboro Blues,” against a backdrop of the Fillmore East album cover—well, you know it is going to be a special night. (And if you were paying attention, you saw Chuck Leavell’s set-up on the far right of the stage, boding well for set 2.)
Warren’s slide work on “Statesboro” is bluesy and controlled; then he works his way up the neck. Gregg lays on some barrelhouse tinkle, Derek plays some earthbound lead, and Warren adds high slidy accents against Gregg’s vocals. Gregg mentions the 35th anniversary of the Fillmore East, and Derek steps into the intro to “Done Somebody Wrong,” taken as a hard, swinging stop-time. Warren attacks on slide; it is the second song in a row on which both guitarists play slide. Derek plays a bluesy solo, his strings squealing in pain.
Gregg testifies on “Stormy Monday;” Warren steps up with some sweet counterpoints on the third verse. Derek takes the first solo, and waits three bars before entering with slide blues. Gregg next, offering waves of vitamin B3. Warren plants his feet and peels off the blues, the first guitar solo of the night without slide; an appreciative crowd cheers Warren as Gregg leans back into the vocals.
The band steps straight into “You Don’t Love Me,” eschewing the extended opening vamp of recent years. The run-through of the song proper seems a little perfunctory; after the vocals, Derek shreds, then improvises white heat as the band melts away behind him on the outro. Derek’s playing is slidy joy, he teases with long high question mark notes, hinting, foreshadowing. Warren locks on with Butch, and the band follows Warren’s nasty blue shimmy. Oteil boils over; the drums are smoldering, Warren is ripping it up. He pulls the band to a big, stretchy elastic stop… then Derek hits shuffle chords for the vamp that usually comes up front, Warren soars over the top, Derek hammers out a heartbeat, Warren is flying up and down the neck, Derek falls into furious strumming, and the band races into another hard stop. Now Derek delivers on his earlier tease, deliberately playing the sweet “Soul Serenade” melody lines. Warren adds nice harmonic rhythm, and now Derek and Warren are both flitting around the “Soul Serenade” melody, a glorious excursion, grounded in 35 years of history. Finally they move together, there’s an unspoken gesture passed between them, and the two guitarists put the piece to bed with a twin rendition of the “Joy to the World” lick. Magnificent.
So then, side three. Gregg is electric on the opening section of “Hot ‘lanta.” Derek plays a dark, mysterious, incendiary solo; then Warren wails, and Butch hits the timpani as the band brings the song to a close. A full stop, then a dreamy “Elizabeth Reed.” Derek is dark and dreamy but concise on the brief introduction, giving way to the statement of the song’s theme. Then Derek plays long, languid lines, picks up speed, faster, faster, then hits a deep, resonant line and comes to a full rest… then he gets back on the shred mill. Gregg plays a nice solo, riding the organ swells into the song’s lick, then Warren enters with big, squeezy notes. He plays fluid, watery lines, then a rapid fire attack from the gut, higher and higher. He splashes over the drums, tosses in a “Les Brers” tease, leading back into the riffs. A quick drum interlude, Oteil hops on board, and then out. The place is in love.
Derek and Oteil exchange grins as the band thunders into “Whipping Post.” (Remember, this is all still the first set.) Derek plays some full-bodied, dark lead; time seems to slow as Derek begins again, playing slide over a cool bed. A “My Favorite Things” tease becomes a full run, then swirling torrents take us breakneck back into the verse, an outstanding display. Warren comes out of the verse and goes to the swamp, fiery, insistent. He milks it on the pre-vocal breakdown, then storms into the march section with big, emphatic gestures. He hits a note on the bluesy, elegiac march solo that shines a black light like a beacon out into… well, into the Beacon. Then the band falls into a mad dash, Oteil is riding the crest, Warren is exorcizing demons. Then hard back into the climactic vocal sequence, Gregg wrings all the agony out of the verse, and it is, for 21 minutes, one of the most epic versions of “Whipping Post” I’ve heard in years.
As the song ends, Butch steps from his kit and positions himself behind the timpani, and begins the intro to “Mountain Jam.” Which, after a few seconds, fades out… just like on the record. It is a fitting coda to an extraordinary set, an hour and a half with no let-up.
The lights dim for the second set, and Butch picks up exactly where he left off—with the opining to “Mountain Jam.” Derek does his voodoo dance, then Gregg adds some sweet soloing; Gregg is feeling it tonight. Warrant takes flight, and the band responds by changing up behind him; he falls in with the new, grinding riff. The band takes a spacey ride over a Butch beat; Oteil, Warren and Derek are all wielding ringing sheets of sound… and finally, the descent into what we now call Jabuma.
The first set was intense, a sensory assault, and with the drum solo in the first song of set two, it is one of those nights where the drum sequence is confrontational, a challenge. You barely have a chance to regain your senses. But you’ve let the man punch your ticket, so you take the ride, and you are transformed.
The drums seem brief though; Oteil comes on with deep, rumbling explorations. Soon he’s tapping, joining the drum corps, using the bass as a percussion instrument. Quickly the guitars are back, hitting the theme, then getting to a swaying place, both guitars weaving together, shimmering. The movement ends, and Derek restates the theme and on to the close.
“Mountain Jam” seems like the encore to the first set, so in a way the second set actually begins when the band tears into “Woman Across the River.” It is Warren’s first vocal performance of the evening. He plays tart lead between the verses. Gregg has his say, then Warren’s vocals, then Derek plays a run frisky like a rabbit, then punctuating his lead with two big stinging exclamation point notes, his arm coming down hard as he hits the string. Warren amps up the band leading back into his final vocal section, then he and Derek go off on a frightening round of Can You Top This. It is smoky, smoldering. Oteil is having a blast. As the song ends Warren acknowledges him by announcing, “Oteil!”
Chuck Leavell ambles out on stage and takes his position on the right, past Oteil; he readies with some spacy chords, then the band embarks on “Desdemona.” Chuck plays the blues behind Gregg’s vocals, then on the instrumental break he takes the first, extended solo, laying on a 70s soul vibe that seems just exactly right. Derek steps to the fore and tosses off ghostly lines that hold secrets; Chuck’s chording behind Derek invokes “My Favorite Things” even more than this song usually does. Then Derek dirties it up, while Chuck falls into a groove that hints at “Take Five.” Then Chuck plays some rolling piano as Warren offers up some signature lead work, leading into the riff that heralds a return to the vocal section.
On “Come and Go Blues” Chuck plays some flowing keyboard. Oteil is having his own party, leaning over Chuck’s electric piano, swaying, shining a light on Chuck from deep within.
After a longish pause, Warren peels off the intro lick to “The Sky is Crying.” Warren handles the vocals, and his slide work positively drips with honey. Chuck gives ‘em a tickle, restrained classic roadhouse blues; Warren shouts out the verse, the place still applauding Chuck’s soloing. There is a connection between band and audience; the house responds to Chuck, and Warren feeds off that response in his cocky powerful vocals. When Derek solos, he enters on the third bar, playing a note you almost don’t hear, but which builds and builds, leading into the real blues with a feeling. Derek’s solo also elicits an ovation; by now the crowd is putty in the band’s hands.
“The Sky is Crying” is a delightful treat; few bands could infuse s straight-up 12 bar blues with so much new feeling. It is a highlight.
Finally, the inevitable “Jessica.” Chuck plays some sweet piano leading into the twin licks that define the theme. Jaimoe, Butch, and Marc are all swinging. Out of the theme, Butch lays down a beat with Marc accenting, providing a foundation for Chuck. Chuck goes off the page, gets Butch’s attention, then hits back at the melody. Then he’s off into a sweet gallop, and suddenly in your head, you’re running in a field. Chuck’s playing is a prolonged, joyous celebration, and the place erupts. Derek runs out of the transition lick, free styling as the band plays softly over the drums; the ensemble playing becomes a Warren solo on the song’s melody; Derek has taken us away, Warren takes us back. Warren stays close to the song, hits at the theme; the band falls in, and back to the licks that bookend the piece.
Susan Tedeschi joins the band for the encore, sharing the vocals with Warren on “The Weight.” Susan adds harmonies to the first verse, then sings the second; again, Oteil is loving it. Derek does the nasty, then Warren sings the third verse, and Susan the fourth. Warren takes an intense solo that is barely on the tracks, then sings the final verse. Susan belts and testifies on the outro, using her voice as an instrument, dueling with Derek’s guitar. Warren and Susan do a little soul workout, then Derek’s guitar carries the night to a close.
Done Somebody Wrong
You Don’t Love Me>Soul Serenade
In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
Woman Across The River
Desdemona (Chuck Leavell)
Come and Go Blues (Chuck Leavell)
The Sky Is Crying (Chuck Leavell)
Jessica (Chuck Leavell)
The Weight (Susan Tedeschi)