Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’
Good Clean Fun
Worried Down With the Blues
Trouble No More
Woman Across the River
Instrumental Illness > drums > Illness
Walk on Gilded Splinters
Done Somebody Wrong
Old Before My Time
Leave My Blues at Home
You Don’t Love Me > Whipping Post jam > Black Hearted Woman jam > Whipping Post close
Monday night seemed like Night of the Living Drummers. The tautness and athleticism of the three-man drum section seemed to be the theme off the show.
The “Sopranos” theme was back as opening music when the band bopped into a sprightly version of “Revival.” It was concise, with some nice licks traded by the guitarists. “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin'” featured some stretchy, bendy notes from Derek and some nice organ work by Gregg. Then “Good Clean Fun” totally swings, with some nice riff-based guitar work and a tasty Gregg organ solo.
Warren steps up for his first vocal performance of the night, “Worried Down With the Blues.” Derek tosses in some nice accents on the verse,and his solo is a slow boil. Warren stretches the intro note on his solo, then back into the verse, then Derek plays a fat solo as the energy comes down and Jaimoe is perfectly accenting the song. Then “Midnight Rider and “Trouble No More,” both pretty much by the book. Gregg takes another sweet organ solo between verses on “Woman Across the River.” Then Derek takes an unusually aggressive solo, the band falling into step behind him. After they go back into the verse, Warren’s driving, insistent solo brings the song to a close.
Jay Collins joins the band on sax for “Soulshine,” and it may have been my vantage point (on stage in the wings) but I didn’t think he added much. Maybe he was higher in the mix in the house. Gregg sings the first vocal, accompanying himself on some church style organ. Derek’s solo splits open the ceiling and the sunshine comes pouring in. Then the outro, with Derek and Warren all release over the sax and organ.
“Instrumental Illness” closes the set, featuring a rare first set drum solo. In truth though, the entire song is a drum solo, as many sections feature a single player interplaying with the drums. It is an impressive 25+ minute display of musicality and pure athleticism for the rhythm section.
Oteil kicks things off, accented by Marc. Gregg’s organ comes to the fore on the first go-round of the melody. Then Derek plays a sequence of single notes, then the notes become bursts. He seems to stop time with a bent-note solo, mostly just Derek over the drums. Oteil lets loose in counterpoint to the melody with Collins over the top; the drums are pushing against him, asserting themselves, introducing some dissonance. Next Warren solos, and it is time for adventures in melody as he explores various themes. Oteil is more prominent now in the mix. Warren’s long, adventurous solo ends up as just guitar over drums, and leads into the extended drum solo. Marc and Jaimoe trade off in a drummer’s call and response, with Butch providing the solid underpinning. It is as if the other instrumentalists have left, but the song is still there.
Eventually Oteil lays his bass on top, Warren adds a solo, and the band is back. They collectively re-state the song’s theme, then Oteil hits the bass line for the final go-round.
It is a long set– over at 9:40. Truth be told, though, outside of the drumming pyrotechnics on “Illness,” it seems somewhat rote.
The second set picks up where the first set left off– with drumming. A brief ensemble drum piece serves as opening to “Walk on Gilded Splinters,” which in the Allmans’ hands is less a gumbo number than on Dr. John’s version. The vocals are tight. The band swings on “Done Somebody Wrong,” Derek leading the way on his swinging solo, then going back into the stop-time on the verse. Warren adds a solo, then Derek wails over the band’s stop-time close.
“Old Before My Time” features a very quiet arrangement, and Gregg’s vocals are restrained, and more effective for it. The band is clearly experimenting with dynamics. Butch is the sole drummer. Marc joins in as Warren harmonizes with Gregg. Gregg plays a heartfelt organ solo, then Derek a wistful one, with Gregg providing the underpinning.
Warren goes into that fat, stinging “Forty-Four” riff, with Derek playing against him on the counter-lines. Warren peels off a fierce solo over the song’s insistent riff, then Derek squeezes off impressionistic lines, then hits a deep down note and riffs off that a while.The ensemble kicks in, driven by Gregg’s organ, with Derek wailing over the top. Then, perfectly,Warren pulls it back in with that slow, fat riff. Derek and Warren play harmonic lines between the vocal parts. Then Derek takes off, wild yet reigned in, over the soft,soft fade. It is impossible not to smile if you are truly listening. Highlight.
Gregg follows up with an up-tempo “Leave My Blues At Home.” Then the band launches into “Desdemona” in what I’d call the “Dreams” slot, and it works. From “Desdemona” on the show hits its stride. Gregg takes the first solo on keyboard, Derek hovering nearby, then peeling off quick lines. Derek pulls out one sustained note reminiscent of Carlos Santana; then he is soloing over Gregg’s keyboard work. The solo brings the crowd to its feet. Warren begins his solo with a direct quote from “My Favorite Things” to the delight of the crowd; the jazzy mid-section of “Desdemona” resembles that song. His solo builds,Oteil joins in, and soon Oteil is pushing Warren with his dexterous, heavy bottom end.
Out of the close to “Desdemona” Butch is off and running on the pounding drum beat that heralds “Mountain Jam.” Derek’s vamp over the beat has the place resonating; then the twin guitars are glorious as they state the song’s central theme. Warren’s solo is punctuated by Gregg’s organ work; Warren is improvising further and further away from the core melody of the song. Derek takes a solo, then Gregg, then Warren again, Derek joining in with chorded accompaniment. Warren tosses in a “Norwegian Wood” tease; then the band is into a misty space of improv. Oteil steps up, the guitarists are off in dual synchronized exploration. Derek plays something more than a tease of “Little Martha” and Warren joins him as Oteil changes basses. Then the band is into the closing riff of “Mountain Jam”– a full version arranged to exclude the solo sections of the drums and bass.
The band doesn’t leave the stage before the encore; they huddle behind the drums with manager Bert Holman. Then they take their positions and begin a drawn-out opening that eventually turns over to “You Don’t Love Me.” Derek wails at the top of the neck. Just as the song winds down, rising like a phoenix from its ashes, clear as a bell, the guitarists emerge in that dark murky “Whipping Post” place. Suddenly they are racing along in the latter part of “Whipping Post.” Without the bass intro, I don’t think the house realizes exactly what is happening. The jam builds in intensity, until it seamlessly turns over into a jam reminiscent of the coda to “Black Hearted Woman.” The energy gets higher and higher; then they ease back into the “Whipping Post” space and close the show with a “Whipping Post” style ending. No vocals.
From “Desdemona” on they were firing on all cylinders, and the encore may have been the best thing played all night. On the whole, though, the show did not attain the magic high that some others have. That’s a natural consequence when you compare a band to itself. There is no quantifying why; as Bill Ector of the Hittin’ the Note magazine tells me the next night, when we discuss this, “Some shows are just better’n others. And I can’t say why.” But they were playful and exploratory, and for the drummers especially it was a hell of a night.
And if it was the only show you saw this month, you left the building blown away.