Allman Brothers, hitting the notes
By JEFF MIERS
NEWS POP MUSIC CRITIC
The Allman Brothers Band
Monday, Darien Lake Performing Arts Center
It was a fitting way to see the summer off. On Monday, the Allman Brothers Band took Labor Day revelers at Darien Lake Performing Arts center on a nearly three-hour journey through 35 years of the most intense melding of various American musics this side of Miles Davis early electric groups.
The band played with fire and finesse, the emotional peaks were intense, the valleys sweet and mellow, and through it all, a standard of deep musicality was matched by a commitment to exploring the richest intricacies of the groove.
The midpoint of the band’s long set was marked by a tour de force ensemble percussion section solo from drummers Jai Johanny Johanson (Jaimoe) and Butch Trucks and percussionist Marc Quinones, which offered the crowd a startling hybrid of Latin, African and even modern classical styles, punctuated by Trucks timpani work.
Early on, a moving take on the soul-stirring “Revival” – one of several tunes performed throughout the gig written by departed guitarist Dickey Betts – set the tone, as keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Allman brought his profound understanding of early electric blues to the mic, his gruff, throaty phrasing and thick tone in fine form as the late-afternoon party kicked into gear.
“Trouble No More,” penned by electric blues pioneer Muddy Waters but owned now equally by the Allmans, punched things up a notch, as lengthy improvisations from guitarists Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes offered a hint of what we were in for over the course of the afternoon and early evening.
The recent “Woman Across the River,” from the “Hittin’ the Note” album, showcased Haynes’ incredibly strong, bluesy voice, a perfect compliment to Allman’s singing.
By the time the ensemble hit the midpoint of the Gregg Allman-penned “Come and Go Blues,” the place was going nuts, as the band started peaking, and it became clear that this was be no average Allmans gig. Bassist Oteil Burbridge had, by this tune’s conclusion, established the parameters of the pocket, that subtle space within which a rhythm section works its magic.
That magic underpinned a wonderful Allmanized cover of Van Morrison’s folk-spiritual “Into the Mystic,” sung by Haynes and played with a startling blend of soul and chops by the band.
“Ain’t Wastin Time No More,” “Stormy Monday” and “Wasted Words” provided plenty of opportunity for improvisation from the soloists, none of which was boring, gratuitous or self-indulgent – rather, it reminded one of the tension-building, flowing narrative and lyrical abilities of the best jazz soloists.
All of this led to this remarkable shows centerpiece, the simply mind-blowing instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” – the only rock song to openly intermingle Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way”/”Bitches Brew”-period fusion work with Chicago blues and even a touch of country.
Sophisticated, moving and hip as all get out, “Elizabeth Reed” offered a showcase for every member of the band, kicked off by a solo from Derek Trucks, which, if it was the last one he ever played, would secure his place as the prominent improvisational musical voice of his generation.
Gregg Allman blew a sweet Hammond organ solo with shades of Jimmy Smith in evidence, and then it was time for Haynes to take a stab at the changes, which he did with intensely-phrased confidence.
Chuck Campbell – of the sacred steel wunderkinds the Campbell Brothers, who operate out of Rochester – had parked his pedal steel stage left and was trading licks with Haynes and Derek Trucks on sweltering takes of “Soulshine” and “Southbound.”
Campbell fit right in, his gospel-drenched bluesy phrasing a perfect compliment the throaty blues and jazz lines thrown down by Trucks and Haynes.
An inspired “Statesboro Blues” signaled the unwelcome end to a sublime show. Throughout the evening, the Allman Brothers were hittin’ the note indeed. When they’re as good as they were Monday, the Allmans are simply untouchable.