By Michael Parrish, Special to the Tribune.
31 July 2003 Chicago Tribune
Copyright 2003, Chicago Tribune. All Rights Reserved.
In its 34-year history, the Allman Brothers Band has had 20 different members, with drummer Butch Trucks being the only constant in the lineup. The group has had to reinvent itself repeatedly to adjust to the loss of key members such as original guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts and even, for a time, lead vocalist and organist Gregg Allman.
Their current lineup, which began a two-night stand Tuesday at a nearly sold-out Chicago Theatre, brings together three generations of musicians to produce some of the most exciting music the band has delivered since the halcyon days of the original lineup in the early ’70s.
Playing for 2 1/2 hours without a break, the band delivered a crowd-pleasing set that mixed classic material with tunes from its powerful 2003 studio CD, “Hittin’ the Note.”
In general, the Allmans have only been as good as their guitarists, and the current pair are among the best in the band’s long history. Twenty-three-year-old Derek Trucks, nephew of the band’s drummer, may look like a choirboy, but his dazzling fretwork on both lead and slide guitars reveals a musician who is not only fluent in the Allman style but confident enough to inject his own jazz and Middle Eastern influences into the mix.
Now in his mid-40s, Warren Haynes was largely responsible for the last major artistic revival of the Allman Brothers when he and bassist Allen Woody first joined the band in 1989. Although Woody and Haynes left in 1997 to pursue their side project, Gov’t Mule, the guitarist rejoined the band in 2001. Haynes is not only a driving, emotional guitarist, but a versatile vocalist, as demonstrated by his soulful rendition of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” and a gritty run through Willie Dixon’s “The Same Thing.”
The two guitarists, who have probably jammed together since Trucks was a child, worked flawlessly, spinning out soaring harmonies, taking turns playing slide and lead, and, on extended vehicles like “Mountain Jam,” driving one another to push the improvisational envelope.
Gregg Allman remains the principal vocalist, and he contributed some inspired playing of his own, particularly on a brooding rendition of “Dreams.” But he often held back and let the two guitarists and the formidable rhythm section work their magic.
On Tuesday, Media giant Clear Channel announced that the Allman Brothers would be the first national act for which it would produce live CDs, mass-produced at the venue and available for sale right after the encore. The venture begins with this weekend’s shows in North Carolina, so those hoping for instant memories of the Chicago shows missed out by a few days.
Funk sextet Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe opened the show with a 45-minute set featuring some tight ensemble playing and Denson’s inspired sax and flute work. Denson also provided some tight Junior Walker-style playing when he joined the Allmans on “The Same Thing.”