By: Thomas Dimopoulos
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A crowd of 8,200 — at least half of whom lay claim to have attended the band’s legendary 1971 Fillmore Theater shows — kicked it back mellow at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Tuesday night, waiting for the Allman Brothers to take the stage.
Dean Martin (not that Dean Martin), came in from Saranac Lake for the show to attend his sixth Allman Brothers show. His friend Mark Calderone has a 30-year relationship with the band.
”I grew up on Long Island, and I’ve seen them a number of times,” Calderone said.
Among the venues he’s attended are San Francisco’s Winterland and a childhood experience in New York City’s East Village during the Nixon era.
”When I was a kid, my brother dragged me to their show at the Fillmore East.”
The SPAC crowd grooved to the easy tunes of concert opener, Glactic. The smooth N’Awlins jam band was joined by Allmans’ bassist Oteil Burbridge.
”I come here every time the Allmans play,” Neal Larkin of Lake George said. ”I’ve seen them about 30 times going back to the 1970s.”
Larkin was looking forward to the latest incarnation of the band that has broken apart a number of times, only to come together again. It was young guitarist Derek Trucks (nephew of drummer Butch) that Larkin was most excited about. ”Derek Trucks is just phenomenal. He’s a great guitar player. You don’t even miss Dickey Betts,” he said.
You can tell a lot about a crowd by the uniform it wears. This one was heavily adorned with ”Eat A Peach” T-shirts, commemorating the band’s release of 1972. A number of tie-dyed Ts, short-sleeves and jerseys prevailed, many with Allman Brothers or Grateful Dead logos embroidered into surreal designs.
The dimming of the house lights inside the pavilion was met by dozens of tiny flashlights pointed at the floor throughout the amphitheater. The band encourages people to record their concerts, and ”the tapers,” as they are commonly known, were providing their own light as they fiddled with knobs, set meters and record buttons, triggering microphones suspended on long poles.
”Ladies and Gentlemen, a Saratoga tradition — The Allman Brothers,” a voice boomed in the darkness to introduce the stars.
A cloud filled with the sweet, strong smell of incense hung in the air as the band hit the stage with ”Ain’t Wasting Time No More.”
Accompanied by multicolored images from an overhead video screen, the group launched into ”Statesboro Blues,” while a montage of blues legends Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters appeared on the big onstage screen.
Gregg Allman growled out the verse with a deep, booming voice. His long locks were pulled back tightly into a single coil running down the center of his back, as he played from behind a set of keyboards.
Marc Quinones stood in the center of the drum riser, playing congas and flanked by a pair of the band’s founding members: drummers Jaimoe, and Butch Trucks, who pounded away on their respective drum kits.
Allman and guitarist Warren Haynes traded vocals throughout the two-hour-plus show. But it was the extended instrumental jams, with tense buildups, that were among the evening’s best.
Particularly memorable was the guitar interplay between Haynes and Derek Trucks — riffing, sliding and pushing the high end toward the ethereal. If you like your guitar gods, then this was your kind of show, with the two trading solos that screeched, wailed, cacophoned and dripped with southern drawl-inspired blues.
The youngest fans — 2-year-old James and his 4-year-old brother Christopher, wearing miniature-sized psychedelic T-shirts, took it all in from the lawn.
”Their first concert was the symphony, and then they attended the bluegrass festival in Corinth,” dad Will Pouch said. ”But this is the boys’ first Allman Brothers show.”
Pouch, who is one of the owners of Esperanto, said he’s attended many Allman shows.
”They were great back with Dickie Betts, but that new kid (guitarist Derek Trucks) is great, too,” he said.
The overall sound, however, was overblown on volume, at least inside the pavilion.
”If you sit out on the lawn, you can party and have a great time, but not remember too much of the actual show,” said one fan, attending his fifth Allmans Brothers concert.
”Inside, it’s different. This is my first time in the pavilion, and you get closer to the performers and it’s more of watching and listening to the show than it is a party — even though you can’t hear as well close up as you can further back,” he said.
And right he was about the sound. At times it felt as if the rhythm section beat in your upper respiratory system, and dual slide guitars felt like they were wheezing inside your nasal cavity, intent on zooming into your skull. For all of Allman’s growling, barely a word was decipherable, at least close to the stage.
”Growdoo booby diddle-weiss Kazooba,” Allman sang at one point (or something close to it), during one particularly multi-colored moment, as the video screen beamed dancing neon mushrooms with bulbous heads that leaned, tilted and boogied on fragile stalks before huddling beneath oversized coolie hats.
The video images provided a nice accompaniment — pink neon and lime-colored hearts, purple butterflies and a Hindu goddess Kali-like dancer who spun her flaming limbs and beat like a heart to the band’s sound.
Unfortunately, after the fourth song, the video screen disappeared altogether, leaving nothing but the seven-piece band on the stage to provide all the visuals for the balance of the evening. To that end, Trucks played slide guitar to most any fan’s content. Some passed out, some played Frisbee, and couples stretched out on their blankets huddled in the darkness of the lawn, drawing happy faces on each other’s skin, as the band played ”Midnight Rider” inside.