Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
Rocking Horse >
The traveling caravan of rock and soul that is the Allman Brothers Band rolled into Jones Beach last Wednesday nigh for their annual summer appearance. It was a lovely evening, warm and breezy on the water. After a fine set by Moe.—who were joined by Warren and Derek for their last, extended number—the boys get down to business.
Warren starts the chording to “Revival,” an invocation, before the two guitarists go off into the twin licks. He and Derek have switched places on stage—Derek now standing center stage, Warren to your left, by Gregg—and the impact this has on the music is subtle but distinct. Derek plays sharp accents between Gregg’s vocals on the verse, then he plays fat, cascading 3-note lines against the harmony vocals. Derek hangs a long, sinewy note that leads into a lengthy outro solo section, and then he tears it up, spending a good long time slashing across the fret board. Then Warren cuts in and plays a graceful, playful and more rounded, melodic gallop of a solo, loping but intense. Then back into the signature rhythmic riff, then the drum section steps up and brings the song home underneath the “people can you feel it” reprise. Oteil tosses off a line, then “Love is everywhere;” then a Gregg organ burst and “Love is everywhere;” then Derek takes one more quick stab before the close. “Revival” has become a new song, fraught with guitar heroics. It clocks in at almost 8 minutes.
Then right into the bent note that heralds “Don’t Keep Me Wondering.” Warren takes the first solo; Oteil thunders from over on the right. Soon he takes off on a little funk walk, as Derek is crying over the top. “Midnight Rider” follows, with Derek ringing true on the bridge.
It may just be a visual trick owing to his new stage set-up, but Derek seems to be in the middle of everything tonight.
Warren steps forward for a dark, snaky “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.” Oteil rocks steady beneath Warren’s beautifully restrained vocals; Butch is insistent. Warren takes a molten, round blues solo; Derek and Oteil are on the riff underneath, and Warren seems to be pulling them along. Then back into the vocal section. Derek hints at his solo even before Warren finishes the verse, once it does end, though, he eases in slow, letting the riff go around once, twice before he announces himself. Soon Derek is playing a searing dissonant lead, and the band falls out of the core riff, tumbling headlong forward with him. They give in to a free form sort of controlled chaos, until the drum section issues a signal and the band falls right back into place, right in time for Warren’s vocal reprise. Warren finishes the song, the band evaporates to almost nothing, and Derek does his barely-there dance on top. The 2 minutes after the song ends have become a highlight of the song. Soon Derek and Warren are trading trilling call and response licks, both with the gentlest, most restrained touch. The band is barely there. Time bends and slows as they finally… roll… to… a… stop.
Oteil snaps out the riff like the rubber band man, and it is “Wasted Words.” Derek plays short leads on the verse, and walks over toward Oteil. One of the changes in the band chemistry that results from the change in position is that Derek’s primary onstage foil seems to have moved from Gregg to Oteil. Derek and Warren start off the first solo break in unison, then veer off in separate but parallel directions. Gregg’s vocals are strong and clear; his organ drives the song. Derek locks in with Oteil and the two form a rhythm section with the drummers, as Warren solos over a bed of Gregg organ. Warren hits peaks; the band swirls in colors all around him. Then Derek takes off, playing long ice ropes over the syncopation of the band, becoming more frenetic, finally joined seamlessly by Warren for twin harmony guitar lines. The engine room on the back line sends up some heat, the drummers thrashing on all cylinders, hammering the song home.
Next up is “Desdemona,” which has become a modern highlight in the band’s set, and a vehicle for some acute acrobatics. The first vocal section is by the book. The instrumental break opens with a rhythm guitar gallop, with Gregg soloing over the top. Derek solos with restraint, lands fat, then takes off again like a jackrabbit, in a tour de force glassy romp. Oteil walks the dog underneath. Then he chords a bed of color on the bass, and Derek locks onto him; Derek is riding the Oteil wave, and vice versa, the two playing as one, surging, pushing each other on. Warren steps forward to solo, builds, and pulls the energy up to 11, before finally segueing back into the transition lick that leads into the climactic vocal section.
“Desdemona” and “Egypt” provide a sublime 1-2 combination as the sun sets over the water. “Egypt” has evolved nicely since it debuted at the Beacon in the spring, and made a commensurate migration from relatively early to later in the set. The band now attacks the piece with confidence and aplomb, wringing all the juice out of it. Marc lays down the beat, and Butch and Jaimoe join, then the guitarists sprinkle the chording that defines the song’s opening. Then the twin harmony lead lines, and Derek uses his volume knob to squeeze out the notes that frame his solo. He has been an alpha dog all night. Soon he’s off into impressionistic space, building to a crescendo. He finishes his race with a jazzy trip down the neck; the band shifts into low gear as Derek tosses off small explorations and Warren begins his own journey. Soon Warren is playing a majestic solo over something only tangentially related to “Egypt;” the band is now composing on the spot. Heavy guitar and drums, with Oteil driving the beat. Butch, Jaimoe, and Gregg are all at attention, heads up, alert, eyes darting from player to player as the action unfolds. Oteil has his eyes closed, his own way of focusing. Derek and Warren are transfixed on their respective fret boards. Finally Derek brings them back to earth with the stop chords that lead back into the space of the song’s main section.
When the band can go into a place like this and the wheels don’t come off… magic.
“Soulshine” is the payoff after the explorations of “Desdemona” and “Egypt.” On the break, Derek’s solo gives way to Warren’s, and together they comprise a glorious interlude of light. Gregg and Warren are particularly in sync on the harmony vocals of the closing chorus, likely a byproduct of their new physical proximity. Warren strikes a majestic note on his outro solo.
“Dreams” is up next. The band seems to have returned to the format of splitting the solo between the two guitarists; for my money this is a less compelling format, as each player has less time to build a musical narrative, so we get two short stories instead of a novel. Purely a matter of taste though. Warren is subdued on his entrance, but has built to his trademark fury by the time his section is complete. A seamless transition as Derek enters; he clears the air by bending time and space with a quick trip down, then up the neck. His solo seems compact because he has half the usual time to work with, so he gets right to the point, quickly building to fever pitch. For the listener, the song is more dynamic, and less a journey inward, with the two solos. Gregg’s vocals on the post-solo section are straight and true.
With a shudder, the band is into “Rocking Horse.” Derek is totally eyes-on Oteil as Warren sings the beginning verses. Warren steps forward with a weighty solo; he turns the heat up higher and higher on each go-round until he is careening off the outer boundaries of the song. Derek and Oteil exchange smiles. Derek sits out a few beats off the transitional riff, letting the drums roll on; then he begins by chording, then splashing out notes like raindrops on a pond. Soon it is a tsunami coming at you from all around. The music grows still and calm, and Derek starts tossing out choppy chords, then splaying notes. He runs the length of the guitar neck, and pounds into the transition riff with furious strumming. Warren hits the mark on the vocals that close the parentheses of the song, and instead of ending, the music gives way to the drum section.
Jaimoe and Marc fall into a funky little groove, then Butch joins on timpani and it morphs into something different in response. Jaimoe and Marc stay in the pocket, Butch adds the boom. Jaimoe rides the cymbal; Marc and Butch respond by aligning around a new center. This opening movement comes to a stop, and Jaimoe leads a new charge through different shapes and patterns, a more nimble as opposed to hard-driving interlude. But then Butch pounds out that cadence of his that is reminiscent of “The Other One,” and the drum section picks up speed and falls in. Jaimoe is beaming; he has been smiling all night.
Oteil comes on as the drums come to a full stop to applause. He begins his solo section with some resonant, juicy notes and jaunty lines; then he falls into a funky little ditty and is joined by drums. He plays against the deliberate stick work of the percussionists as the band returns and each member joins in, fleshing out Oteil’s excursion. Finally Oteil brings the spot to a resolution; Derek tosses off a couple of licks of “Happy Birthday” in honor of Oteil as the bassist guides the jam to a close, and from the brief moment of stillness the band emerges with “Jessica.” It is the exact song that the rest of the show had built to.
Warren lays down the chords as the band finishes with the opening statement of the song’s theme; there is just rhythm guitar and drums. Then Derek begins to solo gently on top. It is a slowly building, joyous romp, Derek filling “Jessica” with tone. Warren picks up the ball from Derek midway through the transition riff—Derek plays the front end of it, Warren the back end—and then proceeds to play an upside-down solo, starting out at a sprint, then moving into slower, softer, jazzier space. He tosses out a “Mountain Jam” tease, then he is trading lines with Derek. They hit harmony on the song’s melody, then move away and apart; Derek wails as Warren changes guitars, then Warren seamlessly takes over the solo when he has the new instrument in place. He hits the note at the top of the neck, signaling a return to the riff that returns us to the song’s main theme, and Derek leads the band back through an exclamation point of a crescendo.
The encore is a rollicking “Southbound.” Oteil is flying; Warren is shredding. Derek and Warren trade lines, both on slide. Oteil becomes a third guitar, and a 3-guitar wave hits us high and hard, then into Gregg’s barrelhouse closing vocal section. Bam!
With Derek situated center stage, there seems to be a sort of power trio thing going on stage left with Derek, Oteil and Butch; Derek and Oteil are in tune with each other all night, and the three-way communication on that side is subtle but palpable (Note: I was sitting right in front of Oteil). Warren does not seem to have his stage legs under him yet on stage right; with time he will begin playing off Gregg, and locking step with Jaimoe. This is not to suggest anything lacking in his performance; quite the contrary. But Derek seems to have unpacked and moved in first.
Overall the physical distance between Gregg and Derek seems to sever some of the bond the two usually share on the songs where Derek accents Gregg’s vocals with answering lines on guitar. Conversely, the new proximity between Derek and Oteil seems certain to be a melting pot for some major action. Subtle changes to most, but this is a collection of players so attuned to each other that any change will produce ripples in the music, and that is all to the good.