By: Neil Kirby
For: The Saratogan
Nearly 40 years after the Allman Brothers’ first performance in Jacksonville, Fla., some might wonder if the legendary jam band has, like other artists famous for pushing the proverbial envelope in the late ’60s and early ’70s, gone by the way of carin.’
Today, the band sounds like an echo of the artists once known for mixing musical styles and achieving a level of technical mastery, then unknown to rock and roll.
While they played classics such as “Midnight Rider” and “Jessica” at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Tuesday to legions of new fans – many born years after the originals were written – images of past performers and musical influences appeared on a screen suspended above the stage.
Meanwhile, live images of the night’s program danced across dissolving shots of the jazz and blues artists of the past, showing that one thing is certain: The band hasn’t forgotten the tradition it belongs to.
But it didn’t let that restrict them, either. Variations of the Allman Brothers’ hits, which they performed countless times over the past few decades, allowed for suspended solos that created anticipation for when the artist would return to the familiar, time-honored tunes.
During “Jessica,” bassist Oteil Burbridge placed his instrument down and moved to the drums, where he played with three other percussionists for one extended interlude, sans strings.
While some of the audience started to peter out up to this point, “Jessica” and its drum quartet seemed to renew interest in Tuesday night’s crowd. And, although the variation of the classic song didn’t quite match the glory of the original, it seemed to satisfy those who stayed.
Meanwhile, shots of the band on screen inexplicably began to dissolve over images of whales diving into the sea. Then, shots of either fireworks or a volcano erupting – I couldn’t tell which – flashed behind the night’s lineup.
But the audience didn’t have to be familiar with the iconography to enjoy the show. One man, who danced for about three hours, glanced at a picture of a peach projected on screen that referenced the band’s 1972 album, “Eat a Peach.”
“What is that, an apple?” he asked before flailing his arms again.
For many, the real icons were those on stage. While Gregg Allman pounded the keyboard for nearly two hours, Bob Weir, one of the founding members of the Grateful Dead, opened the show with his own set of songs and covers, many of which had their own extended jam sessions.
While many came simply to hear these songs, I couldn’t help but wonder when the melody was going to materialize into something memorable.
At one point, a security guard asked to borrow my notepad. I gave it to him, and he disappeared. A few minutes later he returned and handed it to me. Why he needed it, I have no idea.
It was an interruption not unlike the interludes that I was, by now, used to.