By Scott McLennan
For the Telegram & Gazette Reviewer
MANSFIELD— Before taking his seat on the tight ship run by the Rolling Stones, keyboard player Chuck Leavell took time Saturday to play loose and free with his old group, the Allman Brothers Band.
The Allman Brothers Band packed the Tweeter Center for the Performing Arts and was well on its way to delivering a powerful set even before Leavell first joined in during an extended version of the slow-burning “Desdemona.”
After the band moe. played some head-spinning jams during its 90-minute opening set, the Allmans took to the stage with the feel-good boogie of “Revival.”
The 21st-century Allmans are as potent as the original ’60s vintage thanks to the powerful chemistry between guitarists Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes. Both axmen have impeccable taste and chops, and both freely weave jazzy improvisations into their blues-heavy playing styles.
With those two powerhouses out front, organ player, singer and sole remaining Allman brother Gregg Allman performed with a relaxed confidence. His sad drawl perfectly suited such fare as “Every Hungry Woman” and “Melissa,” which Allman performed on acoustic guitar.
The Allman Brothers Band has not altered its basic plan of attack in some time; but why mess with a crowd-pleasing performance style? Further, the band dodges the bullet of staleness thanks to the occasional album of solid new material. The group is still getting mileage out of 2003’s “Hittin’ the Note.” The band also included a new instrumental number that tested its harmonic skills.
But the essence of a successful Allmans’ concert is found in the indelible blues anthems that rise on the fuel created by the mixture of frenetic guitar work and percolating rhythms crafted by the triple-drum lineup of Butch Trucks (Derek’s uncle), Jaimoe and Marc Quinones, and bass player Oteil Burbridge.
To the basic soul of songs such as “You Don’t Love Me” and “Woman Across the River,” the band adds all sorts of imaginative color, courtesy of group jams and incendiary solos.
Derek Trucks, who is perhaps the top slide-guitar player around right now, preserved the legacy of original slide master Duane Allman, and the band made that connection even more clear by superimposing images of the two on the video screen hung over the stage.
Leavell, who joined the Allman Brothers Band after Duane was killed in a 1971 motorcycle crash, brought an even deeper sense of history to the Allmans’ Tweeter Center show. Though in Boston for the opening of the Stones tour at Fenway Park, Leavell sounded deep in the Allmans’ groove, playing inspired piano parts on “Desdemona,” and epic versions of “Dreams” and the instrumental “Jessica,” the song where he first made a lasting impression with the band.
The band capped its 2-1/2-hour show with “Southbound,” ending much like it started, with a hip-shaking boogie, and showing every sign that like the Stones, the Allmans too aren’t gathering any moss as the band cruises through its fourth decade.
The new-breed jam band moe. proved a good fit in the opening slot and seemed to bring in a sizeable chunk of its own following that cheered on every extended jam. The band, which typically plays theaters, looked and sounded right at home on the big stage and made grand gestures with long and meaty versions of “Tailspin,” “Captain America” and “Rebubula.”