First the set list:
Don’t Want You No More >
Not My Cross to Bear
Aint Wastin’ Time No More
Can’t Lose What You Never Had
High Cost of Low Living
Woman Across the River
Please Call Home (Gregg solo)
Rain (Gregg solo)
These Days (Gregg/Warren)
Preachin’ Blues (Derek/Warren)
Black Hearted Woman > drums > Black Hearted Woman
Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad? (Barraco) >
Franklin’s Tower (Barraco)
In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
E: You Don’t Love Me
I’ve been going to see the Allman Brothers at the Beacon a long time before I knew what the Internet was; my first run was ’92. Over the years, I have come to develop a real fondness for the “off night” show; the Monday or Tuesday, mid-run gig following a night off after a week-end. It is a low-pressure affair, the energy from the crowd probably at the week’s lowest ebb, and while this might seem like a recipe for disaster, in fact it often ends up being a recipe for the sublime. If on Saturday night they bring the Honky Tonk mojo, on these nights they bring a sort of concert hall mojo (or “meaux jeaux”), and the result can be some of the most expressive, impressionistic, easy playing of the run.
Monday night was one of those shows.
As usual, Derek was walking around pre-show wearing his ax, like it is an extension of him. As the band settles in, curtain just up, Gregg twice tinkles a “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” tease. It seems like a musical continuation of some private joke, although it is a testimony to the band’s adventurousness that it was not inconceivable to think they’d actually play it. Somehow it sets the tone for the evening, but quickly Gregg counts down “Don’t Want You No More.” The song hits high gear immediately; Derek fingerpicks his blistering first solo. Then he takes a second solo, with clear shining tone, out front of the beat, leading into the hanging note on which the band pivots into “Not My Cross to Bear.” As usual, Warren announces his presence with some ringing blues. Gregg’s organ swells to fill in the gaps he leaves himself in his vocal delivery. Derek tosses out a quick line between verses, but Warren peels off the first solo. Then Derek wrenches blues from the neck of his Gibson. The band moves easily into “Aint Wastin Time No More,” the breezy capper to the Don’t Want You/Not My Cross opener. Again Derek’s tone is round and full on the opening lines, leading into Gregg’s vocal; then a graceful swooping slide solo out the other side. The energy of Derek’s build-up pulls the band forward as his solo rings on and on. Then the two guitarists move closer together and Warren (I think) pulls out a smoking solo, as Gregg watches appreciatively.
“Can’t Lose What You Never Had” comes on with a hard riff that is reminiscent of the opening night “Gilded Splinters.” Warren’s gutbucket blues give way to a two-guitar horse race, which becomes twin-guitar harmonies. Way more stomp than riff.
The music comes to a halt, and it feels like time for the Warren spot. The band begins cranking out an eminently familiar riff, which I cannot seem to place… until Warren starts singing and I realize that it is “Maydelle,” but with Warren on vocals. Gregg plays a nice organ shuffle under Warren’s verses; it is a jaunty, upbeat number with abbreviated solos.
Gregg’s chording seems particularly prominent on “Midnight Rider,” anchoring the song. “High Cost of Low Living” is a Derek & Gregg vehicle. After the verse, Derek strolls over to Gregg. Warren takes the first lead on the bridge melody; Derek tosses in complimentary accents on slide. Gregg finishes the vocal section and switches keyboards as Derek begins his slow entrance, leaving time and space between his lines, letting the music breathe like good red wine. Derek then takes the drum section on a roller coaster ride, rising, dropping, up, down. His tone is fat and glassy as he makes his final touchdown, and Warren joins in, chording along with Derek’s gentle lines. Derek’s playing is fuzzy and clear as he puts this one to bed and tucks it in. Gentle, lovely playing.
From here, the band is in a zone where every song seems to flow organically from the one before. “Woman Across the River” is the perfect follow-up, pumping the energy back up, but still an easy sort of take. Warren tosses off a brief solo before beginning the vocals; Jaimoe’s cymbal crashes propel the band on the beat. Derek peels off a quick solo, then Gregg joins the fun; he is definitely “on” tonight, and reliable predictor of a good show is Gregg’s prominence in the instrumental mix. Derek slashes out a note announcing his arrival, then plays a staccato blues. He raises his arm, swipes his hand hard past the strings, his thumb just catching one on the way down for an emphatic exclamation point of a note. Derek slaps, plucks, cajoles his guitar; he does things to it that are illegal in fifteen states. Warren offers a fuller, deeper tone on his solo, which melts into a chorded guitar duel, which melts into harmonic lines as the two players fall in together briefly, then soar back apart, then back into the song, and a slamming finish.
You can almost taste the “Stormy Monday” in the air before they begin playing it. It’s that kind of night.
Gregg’s vocals are deeply moving on this perfect selection, over a bed of organ and guitar chords. Derek is in the pocket, starting a fat, slippery slide solo that weeps and moans. Gregg, assertive, grabs the reigns for some forceful playing. Warren hits some traditionalist blues; behind him the band swings. “Lawd, have mercy!” you think, as Gregg returns for the closing verses.
Marc’s tangy rhythms give way to the sweet chords of “Egypt.” The twin guitars wrap around the eastern-flavored theme. Derek plays a slow, meandering solo; he is clearly featured tonight. The structure and tonality of “Egypt” make it an excellent vehicle for Derek to improvise over; this piece, played all but one night so far, is the sound of the Allman Brothers Band right now. Warren picks up the pace, the rhythm section falling in. It seems like when Derek solos tonight, the band lays back, and when Warren solos, they step up. Perhaps because a majority of the songs feature Derek, the net effect of the show is a laid back vibe, like no one’s even breaking a sweat.
Warren has the band running at full tilt now; his machine gun blasts ricochet off the ruckus and into the stratosphere. Then he and the band rear up to a halt and we’re back exploring the dark ancient mysteries of the piece’s melody and chords. Oteil lays down some emphatic lines leading into a re-statement of the guitar theme, bringing a long and delicious first set to a close.
Gregg keeps the sweetness quotient high with the songs he chooses to perform during his solo slot to open set two. “Please Call Home” is stripped to its barest essence, Gregg totally inhabiting the song, wringing it dry with just voice and piano. Quick thought: a Gregg Allman episode of VH1 Storytellers. “Rain” hits that same happy place. On the “mellow night” (Bert called it that before the show) these songs are sublime additions. Warren’s opening lines are especially poignant on “These Days.” “Preachin’ Blues” with Derek and Warren is amped-up, juiced-up juke joint music. Warren adds playful salvos; Derek responds. The bottom string boogie recedes, but the rhythm remains, implied by the two soloists, echoed by the crowd’s clapping.
“Statesboro Blues” kicks off the electric portion of the set. Then “Black Hearted Woman,” which fades down into an early drum solo, the transition so subtle that I think it is merely a drum break until I notice the front line is off the stage.
Some nights a play by play on the drum solo is pointless; all you can say is, “it worked.”
Out of the drums Oteil takes his first true solo section of the run. Soon he’s joined in elastic momentum by Butch. Oteil’s playing is much harder than it is during a solo in which he scats. Jaimoe rides the cymbals over the top as Oteil takes the drummers on a deep space charge, he running the voodoo down. Then back to “Black Hearted Woman,” and the triplet-based coda has Oteil shaking your thang as the whole band is rolling on, until again they collectively stop on a dime.
Rob Barraco situates himself on keyboards by Gregg, so you are ready for “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” Derek squeezes out those familiar riffs, Warren tears into the vocals. By the time Barraco takes his Snoopy dance solo on keyboards, love doesn’t really seem all that sad at all. Barraco executes the segue to “Franklin’s Tower,” vamping on the three chords until the band falls in behind him, and the crowd catches on. Derek eschews the easy solo, using fat slippery slide to move away from the melody.
The jam on the outro keeps going as Barraco leaves the stage, mission accomplished, and then melts seamlessly into “Elizabeth Reed,” Marc accentuating with waves of shimmering steel on gong. Marc is locked in with the guitarists as they make their way to the familiar theme. Derek tames a feedback dragon on his solo; Gregg layers some Latino-flavored organ on his. Warren teases out some swampy-sounding note, and the band takes it down a notch and simmers behind him. The drummers are hot and bubbling, but Marc is particularly noteworthy. Warren unfurls a long solo that builds and builds until you ache. Then a brief drum break from the engine room in the back, before a quick dash into the theme again for the finish. Stripped of the drum solo, “Elizabeth Reed” feels reborn; the momentum just keeps peaking from start to finish.
Before the encore the guys behind me are speculating “Whipping Post.” I tell them, with a certainty I cannot fathom, that it will be “You Don’t Love Me.” Like I say, it was just one of those nights, where you KNOW, but you don’t know how. So no surprise in these quarters when the band begins the extended dance that inevitably gives way to “You Don’t Love Me.” There is a slow build, the bottom of the song begins to emerge, Derek tosses off some licks, and then the familiar opening lick and the change into the song. The band builds to a killer funk, Derek and Warren huddled together at the center of the stage, peeling off notes that splash around the room. Of course it is the perfect ending.
Great first set, sweet acoustic interlude, short but spot-on second set (if you counted the Barraco medley as one song, only 5 songs after the acoustic section.) No, it wasn’t a Saturday night show. But Saturday isn’t Monday either. It was a night when it seemed like the band was playing for themselves, and if you came along for the ride, good for you. That made it a keeper.