Jaimoe was back in the saddle Thursday night, to the collective relief of many of us. And mid-week or not, St. Patty’s Day is going to color the energy of the crowd (color it green, to be precise.) And finally, of course, the first show of the second weekend is the night that fans from all over the country, and all over the world, begin to descend upon the Upper West Side to reconvene for that unique spring ritual, congregation of the First Church of the Allman Brothers Band. Energy was at fever pitch, the air was thick and heavy with the party, and as Bert brought on the band on with a reference to St. Patty’s Day, the crowd was particularly rowdy, boisterous– and primed. So let me not leave you hanging: tonight the Allman Brothers brung it. It was fierce, it was foreboding, it was tart, it was BIG, it was manly, and it was in the house.
So we get another Yang show, another hard-driving, blow-you-back-in-your seat affair. It was one of those shows where the band is almost a force of nature. I started thinking about the yin/yang concept, the two sides of the band, after Monday and Tuesday’s shows, so I asked around about it. A friend says: “Yin represents everything about the world that is dark, hidden, passive, receptive, yielding, cool, soft, and feminine. Yang represents everything about the world that is illuminated, evident, active, aggressive, controlling, hot, hard, and masculine.” Every Allman Brothers Band show, of course, does time in both polarities. But for the second night in a row, the aggressive, hot, hard, masculine tenor of the night made this a Yang bang.
First the set list, so you kids can follow along at home. Light on the old favorites, but heavy on the new favorites– “Egypt,” “Hiding Place,” “Splinters, “Desdemona,”
and “Who’s Been Talkin'” are all highlights. A set list crafted, to be sure, for the cognoscenti.
Done Somebody Wrong
Walk On Gilded Splinters
Come And Go Blues
It Just Ain’t Easy (No Marc or Jaimoe)
Whose Been Talking
Please Call Home (Gregg on Grand Piano)
Delta Blue (Gregg on Grand Piano)
These Days (Gregg & Warren)
Death Letter Blues (Derek & Warren)
Key to the Highway
Leave My Blues At Home > Drums > Leave My Blues at Home
Rocking Horse >
E: One Way Out (Dick Griffin, trombone)
The band snaps right into an brisk “Done Somebody Wrong.” Derek plays a biting solo; it is a groovy, bouncy version of the song, riding along the crest of the beat instead of hitting the stop time hard. Warren plays some long lanky slide runs.
“Gilded Splinters,” the second time out this run, is again a highlight. The band stays deep in the groove. Derek peels off icy glass sheets as the band has assimilated their own brand of the blues into the Creole spice of this song. Then Warren and Derek trade nasty licks on what is one nasty read of this tune.
Right out of “Splinters,” Oteil is bouncing around the room on the familiar bassline that shortly resolves itself into “Wasted Words,” when the guitars and keyboard join in for the emphatic melodic take on the three-beat part (the instrumental triplet over which Gregg later sings “wasted words!”) that announces the song. Derek tosses off an icy hot solo.
Three songs in, and everything feels a bit flat, discordant, musky, minor-key. There is almost a sonic fog, and no, I’m not drunk. It is a coloration the band will bring to most of the night, just right for the hard-edged blues. At the end of “Wasted Words,” Warren begins playing so furiously and rhythmically on his solo that he evokes the “Gilded Splinters” vibe; soon Derek engages him, and the two are hitting it so hard that they could easily segue back to “Gilded Splinters” if they wanted. Finally you remember what song they are actually playing when the guitarists lean hard into the “Wasted Words” harmonic lines and drive the song home.
Next, Warren leads the band through a howlin’, muddy take on “Hiding Place.” If you don’t know this one, basically its an old Chess blues classic, only Warren wrote it. Out of the vocals Gregg’s gospel organ solo is bad to the bone. Warren pinches off sourpuss lines on his solo. And that’s when it hits me, the show is shaping up like a sour ball. It is tart, the lemon one makes you purse your lips. But none of this stops you from eating the whole bag. And the sourness is leavened with enough bluesy sweetness to make the medicine go down.
Warren plays some tart licks out of the bridge. The blues throb on the one chord pulsates throughout the house. Next the band eases into “Come and Go Blues,” a first for the run. I thought I heard a crossed signal before the instrumental mid-section, but maybe that was just me. Warren plays the most melodic solo of the night so far, all too quickly coming to a touch down. Then the band sashays into the moody, pretty intro to “Egypt,” which is already an established set piece.
Derek takes the first solo out of the structured part of the song, and his playing is jazzy and fluid. Soon, though, his strings are making a metallic cry for mercy. Warren, without slide, rains down big teardrop notes. Warren’s tone is clipped and round. Suddenly you feel a swell in your chest, your throat. It is Oteil. The floor begins to hum. Oteil and Warren gallop off. Derek joins in, strumming furiously, in that way he and Warren have of making the rhythm guitar into a lead instrument, as his left hand darts along the neck and alights for the shortest of stops, spelling out different chord shapes across the fret board. Warren takes off on a tough solo, then signals the transition to the rest of the band, and they make their way easily back into the bed of chords that defines the melody.
“Egypt” is a highlight pretty much every time it is played. Oteil said he was thinking back to the band’s classic instrumentals when he wrote it, and it shows. But it is uniquely a vehicle for this line-up, for these players, and while it is true in spirit to the old classics, it apes none of them. Maybe you can say it mines a “Liz Reed” vibe, if you absolutely had to. But only sorta.
Gregg and the band begin the old nugget “It Just Aint Easy,” the song’s second appearance of the run and a welcome addition to the set. After a graceful intro, Gregg growls out the verse; again, the song sounds entirely new. Warren plays a chiming, elegant solo. Gregg’s vocals are outstanding, and the guitarists play the song with an entirely different flair than the original version.
Out of “It Just Aint Easy,” the band goes into some into some lazy-day shuffle time. Derek plays some counter-shuffle lead, and Warren shreds over the top. It is a funky, extended jam that could easily be “The Same Thing,” until they come around the bend and the song resolves into “Who’s Been Talkin.'” They wrap around that song’s riff, but still the intro jam goes on, an extended and blissful workout. Finally Warren signals the band with an exclamation point of a note and steps to the mic: “My baby caught a train…” His vocal delivery, as well as his shredding guitar work, is just killer. At the end of a white hot blues solo, as he returns to the verse, Warren is ministered to by Farmer, who brings him another guitar, and I realize, lord, he must have just played that with a broken string. (I’d know for sure if only I could keep my eyes open on the great parts.) Derek plays some tasty slide– Warren has gone with fingers and picks most of the set– and Derek absolutely smolders, before seemingly deciding he’s had enough, and tossing the ball back to Warren, who plays a brief lead and then finishes the vocals. On the outro Warren sprays bursts, while Derek swoops. Derek’s lines echo Warren’s final vocal line (“I’m the causin’ of it all”); underneath, as the band brings it down, down, Warren rubs out repeated, tiny glassy chords with his nails. Outstanding.
A rollicking “Statesboro Blues” brings the set to a joyous close, a warm familiar pay-off to the dark, deep sour mash blues highlighted by “Hiding Place, “Who’s Been Talkin'”, and the 1-2 opener of “Done Somebody Wrong” and “Gilded Splinters,” leavened a tad with the graceful “Egypt” and “It Just Aint Easy.” Even the normally wistful ‘Wasted Words” is biting and tart.
(Between sets I compliment Warren on “Who’s Been Talkin’.” He laughs deeply and cackles. “You liked that one, eh?” He asks. A rhetorical question; we both know they brought the mojo.)
Gregg opens the acoustic set with “Please Call Home,” a touching highlight perhaps not fully appreciated by a crowd that has been drinking green beer since the morning. “Delta Blue,” which seemed a tad tentative a week ago, is now rocked by Gregg with grit and confidence. He introduces “These Days” with a simple, “This song was written by a friend of mine.” You float gently away on Warren’s beautifully crafted acoustic solo. Next Derek and Warren favor us with a dark, moody love song, Son House’s “Death Letter.”
The electric set begins auspiciously with “Key to the Highway,” which immediately swings like a porch swing in eight bars. Gregg sings the first verse; Warren bites and snarls and screams on his solo, then takes the next verse. Then Derek squawks and squonks on his solo, then makes his way with the slide all the way up the fret board, where he camps out at the top a while. This gives way to Derek and Warren taking leads together, taking one big solo, playing with, at, with, at, each other. All the while, right in the pocket of the eight-bar swing. Their dual duel pulls the crowd up and elicits a collective “Woo!” Gregg sings, then the merry-go-round continues, now Derek shredding on guitar. Finally the song that goes on and on and ’round and ’round is done.
Next up is an assertive “Leave My Blues at Home.” The song continues a welcome change in the set pacing, as it gives way to the drum solo; with the drums coming somewhat earlier in the set than usual this run, possibilities seem to open up on the flip side. The drums wash over you in rolling, undulating, tribal waves. Familiar shapes and sound patterns reverberate throughout the hall. Marc surfs the wave as the other players return; Oteil layers in some snappy, rubbery bottom. The band falls in one by one, into a snaky, jazzy melody with hints of “Leave My Blues” before transitioning hard into the ringing twin riff that chases the song home.
Things go from heavy to heavier with “Rocking Horse.” Immediately it is the deep sour whomp. Warren unleashes an aggressive in-your-face solo that takes absolutely no crap; then a sticky, dank transition over to Derek, who of course starts where he is. The band pulls all the way back and Derek is soloing over just the drums. Oteil joins, playing some soft-touch, deft, light notes; then going all heavy rumbly. Warren’s hands seem to instinctively move toward the strings by themselves, and soon he is joining in on rhythm. Deep into his solo, Derek actually takes his hands OFF the guitar, for a full beat, two beats, three, a measure. I remember something Oteil said: Derek is more comfortable with silence than any musician he’s ever played with. When Derek touches the strings again, he is on fire, tearing it up. He has gone from zero to 180 in the blink of an ear. His solo tumbles hard into the melodic line that signals a return to the riff and Warren’s closing vocal section.
Right out of the “Horse,” Warren peels off the high hanging note that heralds “Desdemona,” and it is so exquisite, so welcome a release that the place is screaming (It does the heart good to hear a Hittin’ the Note tune elicit such a favorable response.) Gregg is deeply emotive on his vocals, then Derek takes his first solo spot, tonight (not surprisingly given the energy level) avoiding the raindrops on roses. His solo is jazz-inflected and pure Derek, tenor sax channeled through slide guitar.
Warren takes “Desdemona” right back to “Rocking Horse” on his solo, playing a fierce lead part that is one long cascade of pure release. Of course, he bleeds it perfectly into the melody of the verse.
While we’re all trying to catch our breath, the band struts into “Revival.” The sentiment is the perfect one to walk off to; love is indeed everywhere. The perfect punctuation mark to the show.
Dick Griffin joins in for a “One Way Out” encore. He makes with the elephant talk on his first solo; then Warren thoughtfully douses the fire with gasoline. A brief Derek, Warren, Dick call and response (and response), then a quick cut back to the riff, and out.
There was a devilish smile on Warren’s face as he waved to the crowd. It was a hot one, and they knew it.