By: David Malachowski
Thirty-one years ago The Allman Brothers Band played its first ever concert in Saratoga. On many levels, this year’s burning transcendent set was just as magical as way back then.
It was the sunny Saturday afternoon of May 15, 1971, that the ABB, then relatively unknown, stunned the unsuspecting listeners at a free show at Skidmore College with an amalgam of blues, country, jazz and rock. Many, many miles and years later, through tragedy and triumph, the ABB still stalwartly rock on.
Kicking things off with a vengeance with “Ain’t Wasting Time No More” and “Statesboro Blues,” found both guitarists Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes blazing in a series of searing tag team slide solos, and you knew right away that this was going to be a serious show.
As a rule, the ghost of late founding member and guitar genius Duane Allman hovers above the show. It was his spirit and direction that got the group on its feet in 1969 before his untimely death in 1971. Here, it was the sheer intensity of Trucks’ slide, coupled with his spiritual resolve and demeanor, that took Duane’s original style and concept and brought it a step further, and skyward.
The majority of the tunes were decades old, but their improvisational nature allows them to be reinvented virtually every night, providing a vital framework for all the members to expand on. “Every Hungry Woman,” “Come and Go Blues” “Leave My Blues At Home,” were stocked with trademark harmony guitar lines and intricate ensemble parts that were simply dazzling.
The MVPs of this show were drummer Butch Trucks, who quietly drove the band with his focus and clarity, and a rejuvenated Greg Allman. Capable of haunting singing even in a drugged haze, the now several years sober Allman is gracefully stepping into his rightful place as one of the best blues singers of his generation, and is certainly now the heart and soul of the band. His vocal turns on “Midnight Rider,” “Stormy Monday Blues,” “Done Somebody Wrong” had a cogent command and depth that ranged from mesmerizing to almost painful.
Guitarists Trucks and Haynes carried their weight as well and showed many fine moments, trading and jousting with masterful fretboard finesse and nuance; Haynes’ “Samething” was simply guitar heaven.
One small thing that was different, which in the scheme of the Allman Brothers Band legacy was quite notable, was the vibe onstage. Never have there been as many smiling band members egging each other on, nodding approvingly at each other. It’s about time.
Not just clinging to past glories, the Allman Brothers Band is powerful, majestic and mystical, and still one of the best bands in the world. THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND with Galactic When: 7:30 p.m. TuesdayWhere: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Route 50, Saratoga SpringsMusical highlights: Slide fest “Ain’t Wasting Time No More,” moving “Midnight Rider,” and the guitar workout of “Samething”Length: Allman Brothers Band, 2 hours, 45 minutes straight; Galactic, 45 minutesThe crowd: 8,300 hippies, both real young and real old.