Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles
Thursday, June 6, 2002
As the anthemic chorus of “Revival” — “People can you feel it/Brothers everywhere” — soared buoyantly throughout the sold-out house, the enthusiastic crowd joined in with Allman Brothers Band singers Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes to turn one of the band’s signature songs into a joyous hymn of optimism and redemption. Performed as the encore to a rousing three-hour set, the song was a fitting choice to close the proceedings — both as an upbeat way to conclude a dynamic performance and to show that there is always hope through song even in the most troubled times.
While our country is still adapting to life after 9/11, on a much smaller scale the ABB is also acclimating itself to some serious internal changes. Never a band to shy away from controversy — and, like most great artists, not afraid to even revel in it — the band has had to deal with recent personal strife of its own. Founding guitarist Dickey Betts was asked to leave the band, ending a longtime relationship that was filled with brilliance and turmoil. The band has also parted ways with Epic Records, its record label throughout the 1990s. But like any great champion, they’ve rebounded in a big way and scored heavily on the first night of a sold-out three-night stand at the Wiltern.
A welcome addition to the fold is former ABB guitarist and current Gov’t Mule ax man Warren Haynes. His always inventive lead and rhythm work combines with lead guitarist Derek Trucks, the “young’un” of the group, to maintain the long-standing ABB tradition of potent lead guitar play. While Betts’ onstage intensity and driving, lyrical leads are certainly missed, Trucks and Haynes are a formidable duo who play well together. Whether soloing on their own or combining to play complex, intertwining leads, Haynes and Trucks are at the vortex of the dizzying jam sensibility that has long been a hallmark of ABB concerts.
But it’s down in the “engine room” where things really get hot and sweaty. The double drumming of original members Jaimoe Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks, along with percussionist Marc Quinones, provide the foundation on which the band can both anchor itself and use as a launching pad to take off into the extended musical passages that help make the Allmans the one-of-a-kind band that they are. And it wasn’t only the guitarists who got to solo throughout the evening. During the set’s centerpiece number, a nearly 45-minute instrumental composition that featured solos from almost every band member, the three drummers got to display their wares in a tightly knit, extended percussive workout that brought down the house.
But the heart and soul of the group remains keyboardist/lead vocalist Gregg Allman. Hunched behind his Hammond organ, with his hair tied back in a tightly wound pigtail, Allman’s blues-drenched vocals continue to age like fine Southern whiskey. On songs like “Midnight Rider,” his bluesy moan is chilling to behold; his is truly a voice from deep within the soul. The Allman Brothers Band remains an American music treasure — icons to both talent at the highest level and to sheer will and tenacity.