St. Paul Pioneer Press
1 September 2004, p. 8B
By Rob Hubbard
When the brilliant young blues guitarist Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971, it looked like the Allman Brothers Band would join that era’s influential musicians with tragically brief careers. But something unusual happened: His band decided to stay together, keep their name despite being down to one Allman, and continue to offer their trademark extended improvisational blues jams.
Who would think that, more than three decades later, the Allman Brothers Band would still (or rather, again) hold a reputation as one of the best live bands? Anyone among the 6,000 at the State Fair Grandstand on Tuesday night who arrived doubting whether this could be possible surely had their skepticism swept away by a wave of electrifying, exhilarating blues-based rock.
Surprisingly, the band sounds more like it did on 1971’s legendary “Live at Fillmore East” album than it has at any time since. With the departure of longtime guitarist/songwriter Dickey Betts, the band has lost the country-folk element he brought to its sound in the ’70s and has returned to the southern rock style it invented way back when (paving the way for Lynyrd Skynyrd and others).
While there was a fair amount of new material (all of a piece with the old aesthetic), 1969 to 1972 was the era of choice for the two-hour, 18-song set. Among the highlights were a pair of emotional tunes from “Eat a Peach,” the first album after Duane Allman’s death: The spirited carpe diem, “I Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” and the sad ballad, “Melissa.” For “Melissa,” the seven-piece band stripped down to an intimate quartet with Gregg Allman on acoustic guitar.
But the guitar stars on this night were Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, who tore through one explosive solo after another. Most memorable among them were Haynes’ powerful picking on “Woman Across the River” and the rapid-fire counterpoint between the two of them on “Trouble No More.”
The enthusiastic audience bridged a few generations, ranging from those in their sixties to the 20-somethings who regard the Allmans as jam-band royalty on a par with the Grateful Dead.
But while the Dead had an air of bliss about them, the Allmans have rage and weighty melancholy running through their rumbling rave-ups. This came through most clearly on the 15-minute encore, “Whippin’ Post,” which proved an almost emotionally draining jam of the highest order.
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