The party weekend is in full swing. Little Milton is in the house.
Trouble No More
Woman Across the River
Old Before My Time
Hoochie Coochie Man
When the Blues Come a-Knockin’ (Little Milton)
Soulshine (Little Milton)
The Blues is Alright (Little Milton; Susan in for Derek)
Oncoming Traffic (Gregg on piano)
These Days (Gregg and Warren)
Preachin’ Blues (Warren and Derek)
Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More
Black Hearted Woman > drums > Black Hearted Woman
Mountain Jam > bass > Mountain Jam
The band opens with “Midnight Rider,” a very nice use of this song in the setlist. “Midnight Rider” is a song that they play essentially the same way each time out, and that seems to make it work especially well as an opener. The familiar guitar lines become an invocation. It is instantly recognizable to everybody, and it sets the stage for whatever may follow…
…which tonight, if we are to be literal, is “Trouble No More.” The band rides right into this song out of the opener. Some tangy Derek work, then Gregg’s vocals, then the riff comes to the fore, than the vocals. After the intro to “Standback,” the guy next to me comments, “Its oldies night.” It is a solid 1-2-3 punch, delivered almost as one song with three movements. The band stops to make space for Oteil, and he surprises by playing a lick very much unlike the “Standback” bassline you were expecting. On the outro, Derek provides the first guitar orgasm of the night. (At this point the guy next to me asks what I just wrote about Derek. I read him that last sentence. He smiles and puts his hands up; he’s decided I don’t need any help.)
Warren goes to the Gibson 335 and favors us with “Woman Across the River” in his early first-set slot. He opens up with a restrained (for him) solo; Gregg darts across the keys on an organ solo, then Warren embraces the vocals. The band’s eyes are on Derek as he builds a rousing, up-tempo solo; then back into the vocals. At his solo’s end, Warren raises his arm, apparently in acknowledgement of Derek; if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought Derek was smiling.
Warren accents his own vocals with long guitar lines between and just underneath phrases; at the end of the vocal section he hits one long hanging one that becomes the first note of his powerful blues solo; then he and Derek are trading leads, then like flipping a switch, Oteil heavy underneath, Derek on rhythm, and Warren on lead are one, propelling the song to the finish line.
Warren plays some beautifully emotive slide on “Old Before My Time.” On the outro, Warren plays some deliberate, deep fried slide; then Derek picks up seamlessly as if playing the second half of one long solo. Derek hangs a sweet fat one, then bends it right back into his solo.
The first “Hoochie Coochie Man” of the run featured no introductory slide duel. Tonight, the two guitarists do an abbreviated one, going a single round each, then the thunder that leads into the insistent cadence of the song, and Warren’s vocal. Derek carries the ball into the verse; Warren plays a high, scratchy solo out of the first vocal section and into the next. Derek leaves glassy trails as he flies up the fret board.
Warren steps to the mic after the song is done and says that “Every night we’ve had at least one special guest;” he proceeds, I am almost certain, to bring on “the late Little Milton.” (I’m sure he meant great. Unless of course he was due sooner.) Milton, on vocals and ax, is set up center stage between Warren and Derek. He is pure showman, turned out in a slick suit that says the blues had a baby and they named it Vegas. The band swings– and I mean SWINGS, Jack!– into what I think believe is the song, “When the Blues Come a Knockin’.” If I have it right, it is on the album by John Jaworowitcz and the Blues Co-op that also happens to feature “Just Before the Bullets Fly” and “Who to Believe.” In any case it is, as I say, an up-tempo, totally swingin’ number. Milton (or as his friends call him, Little) plays a nice, easy-paced solo; then Derek plays long, curvy, happy lines. Warren stays right in the pocket, playing clipped notes, and then Milton plays an extended, melodic solo; “restraint” is the watchword, the man is in no hurry. Gregg plays some tasty organ to take us out.
Next up is “Soulshine,” a song on which Milton appears in its Deep End incarnation. Marc, who doesn’t play on this one, seems comfy sitting to Oteil’s left on the edge of the stage. Warren steps off stage a moment during Gregg’s opening vocal salvo; he’s back in time for his verse. Milton enters well on the solo break, with a high ringing phrase. Warren comes in using a low down octave that hits you right in the belly. Then a climbing, three-man vocal that sounds somehow like 3,000. Then Derek draws applause on his very first sunburst notes; eventually he hits one that lofts straight up. Milton plays out of Derek’s solo, tasteful and economical in his phrasing.
Derek leaves the stage to make room for his lovely bride, and Susan has her sea-blue telecaster. Milton introduces the “international blues anthem of the world,” and leads the band into “The Blues is Alrignt.” Milton’s playing is in a very BB-like place. On the refrain– “Hey, hey, the blues is alright!”– Susan makes her way to Milton’s mic to add her responses to his calls. Milton hands off to Warren, who has some barrelhouse good fun on his solo. Susan’s solo sounds the perfect note– her style works with Milton in a way it might not with, say, “Rocking Horse”– and she elicits Milton’s acknowledgement, and applause from the crowd, as she finishes. Warren hits a solo, Milton finishes up the vocals– of course the whole house is shouting “Hey, hey” with him– and as the band plays out, Milton waves, hands his ax off to Farmer, and he’s off the stage. He’s the consummate showman; the band behind him aint exactly chopped liver. After Elvis has left the building, Warren turns it up a notch or three, as he and Susan trade leads on an extended play-out. (For a brief moment I wonder if I could send my wife in to do my job…) The energy is hyped, Susan goes toe to toe with Warren, and they drive the song to its conclusion.
Marc lays down the Latin-tinged metallic rhythm that has come to announce “Egypt.” The sweet chords fill the air, Warren and Derek treat us to some trademark dual lines on the slow, bubbling theme. The rhythm section hits some stop time, the theme has been stated, and now we’re off. As Derek’s solo unfolds, you wonder what his brain thinks of the colorful, impressionistic picture his hands are painting. His solo is kind of blue. Then Warren and Derek together take it up to eleven. Warren then solos over a sparse backdrop, beginning in jazzy space, his linear ringing solo pulling the music onward. Warren takes the music into a Mule kind of place, then brings it down into the chords, where they linger before a twin guitar finale, to song and set.
The two folkish songs (“Midnight Rider,” “Old Before My Time”), the Little Milton spot, and the “Egypt” touchdown make this a Yin set, laid back and welcoming, as opposed to the hard-charging rough and tumble attack of the two previous shows. And one approach is not better than the other; it is yin and yang, the two sides of the Allman Brothers Band coin.
Of course the acoustic portion of set two continues in this vein, Gregg favoring us tonight with “Oncoming Traffic,” but foregoing his second number. “These Days” seems especially compelling tonight given the context of the show. Derek breaks a string during “Preachin’ Blues,” but quickly switches guitars, and by song’s end Warren has stopped playing and Derek is making all the music, his slide stepping into the cracks between Warren’s vocal lines. In a band with seven players, one inevitably learns the skill of NOT playing; Warren’s stopping gives Derek a chance to shine, and his slide work here is spectacular.
Derek plays some breezy, springtime lines at the start of “Aint Wastin’ Time No More,” getting his broken-string guitar (his main SG) back during Gregg’s first vocal section. Layers of color float over you on Warren’s note-hitting solo.
The band thunders into “Black Hearted Woman.” Given the recent pacing, this figures to be the drum solo song, and it is a good choice. These up-tempo numbers– “Black Hearted Woman,” last night’s “Leave My Blues at Home,” “Rocking Horse”– make, I think, better (or at least different) drum vehicles than the languid instrumentals, because on a song like this, when the other players stop and walk off, the energy is already at fever pitch. You realize that there’s already a pretty propulsive 3-man drum solo going on underneath all the playing. The drummers can now ride the flow instead of first composing it, and so the drum solo feels more immediate, more urgent. (Of course some nights immediacy is not the goal.)
Indeed the drummers start out surfing the wave; “Black Hearted Woman” leaves them with enough forward momentum that they need merely to keep it going. Of course though, they do more than that. I notice that the light show during the drums is outstanding; I don’t usually have my eyes open if I’m not observing or jotting down notes, but the length and groove of the drum section, coupled with the theme of the black hearted woman, provide Chris and the guys (shout out to the Brotherhood!) with a rich palate.
Oteil joins his compadres, turning the drums into a gallop. But he does not take his own solo; soon the twin guitars snarl out the lead, and the band slams back into the song.
From the ashes of “Black Hearted Woman,” suddenly “Mountain Jam” rises like a Phoenix. Derek’s lines before the song are exquisite. I realize that I have no idea what they’re going to do with this song, or even if I’m hearing the first half or the second. Anyway, forgive me here, but I decided to close my eyes and take some time for myself; believe me, you would have too… I hear Derek, making his slide sound like a whistle… later on he fills the middle of your head with shrill bliss… Gregg does his thing on organ…
Warren chimes, and does the hippy hippy shake on his extended solo. He closes by driving a bluesy stake into the ground, and the band circles down around it. Derek is making bird calls (at least I hope they were birds.) And we have eased into… Oteil’s solo spot. Lovely idea; two extended numbers, break up the drum section from the bass section. The band remains on stage as Oteil begins with some deep notes, then segues into lighter-flavored chording. He works the frets, then offers up a rich bed for the soloists to enter over, and there is some tasty and precise playing on the march section…
Derek glides across the neck as Warren provides some urgent chording. Then Warren plays a slow, majestic lead, and hands off to Derek, who plays the second half of Warren’s solo, but adds slide to the mix (Warren has played very little slide all night.) Derek plays a brief sequence of remarkably perfect notes to bring the march section to a stop. Then back into the theme that both begins and ends the piece.
I use these words a lot when I write about this band, and I wish I could find some new ones, but I keep returning to them because they are just the right words. “Mountain Jam” is a thing of power, majesty, and grace. It is a testimony to their collective musicianship that they have played just two songs in almost an hour, and the crowd remains at the edge of their seats. Because there are bands that could play 30 songs, 40, and still not cover as much musical ground as this one just did.
Jaimoe and Marc have switched kits for the encore, and there is a brief interlude of a drum solo, reminiscent of the one that opens “Gilded Splinters,” before the rollicking “Southbound” kicks in. With no guests to rotate in, the song hits a higher note than usual (indeed I cannot remember the last time I heard this without guests). Derek is on fire on his solo– it seems almost too easy for him– and then a piercing note announces Warren, who burns, pulling at the strings. Derek takes it up a notch, so Warren does as well. Derek hits an exclamatory note that leads into the vocals, then those signature twin licks as the band dashes to the finish. When they get there, you are basking in your happy place.
Much like Monday was more the feminine, yin side of this music and Tuesday was more a heavy, manly yang, so too were Thursday and Friday a yang/yin affair, in reverse order. Milton, Susan, and the choice of material contributed to the yin vibe. I am beginning to think that the band’s ability to operate in both spheres, and to move seamlessly between the two, is one of their great strengths.