By Jeff Miers
Buffalo News Pop Music Critic
NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. – For nearly 40 years, the Allman Brothers Band has been preaching the gospel of the blues but treating the music as if it were jazz. The result has been some of the highest level of dynamic interplay, solo and group improvisation, and pushing of the envelope in the history of any blues-based music form.
Friday, inside the Niagara Fallsview Casino’s Avalon Ballroom, the Brothers – at this point, and for almost a decade now, Gregg Allman on Hammond organ, piano and vocals, guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, bassist Oteil Burbridge, percussionist Marc Quinones, and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks – played to their extremely high standards for 21/2 hours before an adoring and – by set’s end – rowdy audience.
For many years now, the Allmans have been playing a several-week residency inside New York’s revered Beacon Theatre.
They use these runs of shows as workshops, in a sense, as a means to deepen their interplay in an intimate environment away from the “sheds” and arenas that have been their home for what seems like forever.
Friday’s show was an extension of that ethic, a supposition supported by the statements of a few hard-core, traveling AB Band fans who attended this year’s Beacon Theatre shows and insisted the Bothers were playing on that level in Niagara Falls, Ont.
The band took a tune or two to hit its groove, but once it did – right about the middle of the Gregg Allman-voiced “Done Somebody Wrong” – it never fell short of that high again.
The set list was diverse, drawing from every aspect of the group’s career. A few early highlights included the Warren Haynes number “Woman Across the River,” a stormy Chicago blues replete with sweet shifts in meter and some absolutely phenomenal interplay between Haynes and Derek Trucks. “The High Cost of Low Living” – like “Woman Across the River,” pulled from the group’s most recent studio effort, “Hittin’ the Note” – featured a soulful, tastefully phrased lead vocal from Allman.
Derek Trucks has recently hit a peak with his own band’s finest album, “Songlines,” and he has remained able to balance his own band’s work with the Allmans tours, happily.
His playing on Friday was beautiful, lyrical, as ever, a blend of blues and Eastern modal explorations.
Switching effortlessly between finger-picked, funky lines, rolling glissandos and shimmering, glasslike slide guitar, Trucks really nailed it, notably during “Every Hungry Woman.”
The crowd was receptive to all the band interplay and soloin. Trucks rose to the occasion again, as did Haynes, during the most inspired version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” it has been my pleasure to witness.