By: Dennis Armstrong
For the Ottawa Sun
It was time to get back to some good ole fashioned blues last night with The Allman Brothers at the Bluesfest Main Stage big show. With a little psychedelia thrown in. After hugely entertaining, eclectic evenings with Kool & the Gang, Great Big Sea, Sheryl Crow and Elvis Costello, the architects of southern rock didn’t have to coax a crowd of 22,800 kicking, screaming and hypnotically entranced fans back to the blues.
And, in the end, all festival guru Mark Monahan could do was light a stogie and groove along with them. See, The Allman Brothers were a dream-team booking for Monahan’s festival. Blues at heart but still, as popular as any arena rock band, the band was a perfect fit for last night’s night’s beer-swilling, down-and-dirty brouhaha.
Lawn chairs? By the looks of last night’s crowd, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, late-night bonfires and more than a few clouds of pot-smoke drifting above the crowd were more in order.
I would have loved to have a concession on potato chips last night.
Let’s be honest. There aren’t many bands left anymore to chill out to. The Allmans remain southern rock’s legendary tragic dysfunctional family, still championing the raw- sounding, down-home electric blues that was the counter-cultural theme music for hippies and renegades in the 1960s.
After 34 years of touring the electric blues, doing concerts with long extended improvisations and solos, it’s no wonder the brothers have been called “the Grateful Dead of the South.”
Last night’s gig was a case in point. Clear-headed and playing with laid-back intensity, the band did something I haven’t seen in 20 years — blur fantasy with reality in an extended, improvised jam, accompanied by dazzling, “lava-lamp” psychedelic visuals and featuring giant mushrooms reminiscent of Haight-Ashbury during the height of the San Francisco drug culture.
They opened with Don’t Want You, Ain’t My Cross to Bear and No One to Run With before introducing 90-year-old bluesman Pinetop Perkins — who once played with blues pioneer Muddy Waters — to join them on School Girl with Warren Haynes on vocals before squeezing in an unscheduled take on How Long Blues with Perkins taking the microphone.
While extended instrumentals may not be everyone’s cup of tea, as the night wore on, most caught the Allmans’ musical buzz. Gregg Allman’s vocals sounded almost as youthful as his Eat A Peach days. Somewhat coarse with life’s miseries but still strong and in full range.
Meanwhile, guitarists Derek Trucks and Haynes played slide and lead guitars off each other with easy intensity on Firing Line and Who To Believe, both from the new album before digging the vaults for Trouble No More, Worried Down Blues and Southbound. They were sympathetic enough to dispel any ghosts former lead guitarist Dickey Betts may have left. Betts was ejected from the band in 2000.
Okay, more than a few fans moaned about not hearing Ramblin’ Man. But after almost three hours of mind-blowing blues, including their extended encore One Way Out from their classic 1972 album Eat A Peach, no one went home disappointed.
The only people who looked concerned were the Bluesfest suits who were worried the band would break the 11 p.m. curfew.
Watch out for Susan Tedeschi, last night’s opening act. Kool & the Gang were funky Thursday, but the Florida-based blues singer and guitarist, who’s married to guitarist Trucks, was sizzling hot. Accompanied by a three-piece brass section and her regular crew of organist William Green, bass Ron Perry, drummer Jeff Sipe and keyboard player Jason Crosby, with the legendary Perkins sitting in on the action, Tedeschi was mesmerizingly seductive.
The Brothers and Tedeschi put on one of the best pure blues shows the Bluesfest Main Stage has seen in a long, long while.
THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND
Sun Rating: 4 out of 5