By: Ralph Berrier Jr.
The Roanoke Times
Really, the Allman Brothers shouldn’t still be this good.
The band hasn’t even been a brother act since 1971. Duane Allman died 31 years ago. Berry Oakley died a year later. The group fired charter member Dickey Betts two years ago and hasn’t had a hit album in years. It could’ve gone on autopilot years ago and still maintained a fan base. Why, then, is the configuration of the Allmans that took the stage Wednesday night at the Salem Civic Center as good as – or, goodness gracious, better than – any lineup the group has put on the stage in the last three decades?
First and foremost, credit has to go to Gregg Allman, who has soldiered on through the years, battling personal demons along the way, to keep a group together that lives up to the Allmans’ towering legacy. He and original members Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Jai Johanny have never let the group rest on its name and disintegrate into a doddering old bunch of jammers who ease through a show on cruise control. Songs might be loaded with improvisational playing, but the band stays tight and focused and steers clear of overbearing musical self-indulgence.
Plus, 30 years hasn’t done anything to diminish the power of his bluesy Georgia growl, as evidenced by his singing on staples such as ”Good Clean Fun,” ”Dark Hearted Woman” and ”Statesboro Blues.”
The other big reason this edition of the Allmans is so impressive is this: Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks are both in the band. The two slide-guitar wizards owned the stage Wednesday night.
It would be easy to envision those string-benders as the modern incarnations of Duane Allman and Betts, and it’s true that the two have distinct styles that play off one another well. Still, comparisons to the past do the two a disservice. Haynes and Trucks don’t try to imitate the legacy; they make it their own and advance it.
”Warren and I have sort of gone through the same roles,” Trucks said in a pre-concert interview. His own band opened with an hour-long set of introspective music that featured blues, gospel and Eastern influences. ”We’re stepping into legendary roles, but we’re not somebody who plays like Dickey or somebody who plays like Duane. We both do our thing.”
Their styles are different. Trucks, Butch’s nephew, shows his love of Bill Frisell and Miles Davis by mixing psychedelic, jazzy sounds with his straight slide-playing. Haynes, back with the band for the first time in three years, plays leads that explode from his Les Paul guitar like the wail of a bluesman screaming out his heart and soul.
Their interplay on ”Dreams” and ”Mountain Jam” showed the band can still dole out the psychotic weirdness that inspired a generation of imitators. Bassist Oteil Burbridge and drummer Butch Trucks and percussionists Johanny and Marc Quinones kept the band’s trademark polyrhythms churning all night.
Plus, Haynes is a great singer and writer. His ’95 song ”Soulshine” was one of many highlights. Depending on how you feel about near-nonstop guitar solos, you might have reached your fill about 90 minutes into this 2 1 / 2 -hour show, or perhaps you felt the band was just getting warmed up then. Either way, this is a band that still has the goods on display.