Usually when I write about a concert, I jump right in. But this one was to epic, too profound not to step back and ponder it, holistically, in the light of the morning after.
To bottom line it: OMFG. O. M. F. G.
The Clapton rumors were all over the Internet. Tickets outside were going for hundreds of dollars apiece. The anticipation was so high that it would have been easy for the thing itself to miss the mark. That the band so thoroughly exceeded expectations is a profound credit to all involved. The first set was a monster—an entire three-hour Allman Brothers show crammed into one bulldozing, stampeding whirlwind assault. “I could go home happy now,” I heard more than one fan say. Then the second set offered up some lovely palate-cleansing and preparatory music before finally Clapton came onstage, three songs in, for a six-song suite that was brilliantly conceived, well-rehearsed, beautifully executed, well-paced, fluid, seamless, delightful. Up there on stage is Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, and Eric Clapton; that isn’t a front line, it’s a freaking pantheon. After the show we all just looked at each other with stupid grins.
But I digress…
…something jazzy rises from the stage like a purple mist, dissolving into the 3-man “Little Martha,” chiming, gorgeous. Then ‘Statesboro Blues;” I don’t know if it is the band, or being surrounded by friends, but every note sounds extra good. Warren pulls the sunshine through his slide. Gregg shines, then Derek. Then the band eases into the laconic shuffle of “Done Somebody Wrong,” stays there a bit until Derek plays the lines of the riff. Warren’s solo is fat and round and slippery and in the pocket. “Revival” features some tasty and deliberate slide work by Derek on the extended break, then Warren picks it up and plays the second half of the solo Derek began. As Warrant takes over, Derek summons Farmer over to switch guitars.
“Woman Across the River” is OK, if you like hard, relentless, forward-hurtling face-melting blues. Warren’s solo about halfway in begins auspiciously, Warren calling out precise notes; then Derek does fast runs up the neck over a center of chewy drummy goodness. Warren brings the song to a big, arcing finish as Derek finishes it out with a busted string.
A swampy “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” gives way to a rare—as in, I’ve never seen one before—first set “Whipping Post.” Part of you is wondering, what are they trying to prove, but then part of you sort of knows. Warren puts a lot of body English on his opening salvo, then the band falls apart around him, and Warren plays the notes between the silences. Then muted forward thrust, Warren piercing and true. He makes a deal with the devil, and explodes into hot waves of dark light. It is something to behold. Then the vocal section, then another sprint up the hill before the music dissolves into waves. Derek plays a trademark Derek solo, using the volume knob like he does to squeeze out dewy green droplets. Then a magnificent crescendo and decay, Derek flirts with ”Liz Reed” territory, then he goes all impressionistic, then back to the song for a big, thundering ending to a big, thundering set.
And, damn, it is only intermission…
Gregg comes on alone to begin set two with a solo piano rendition of “Oncoming Traffic,” immediately evocative of the ’05 acoustic sets. And it is a lovely, moving rendition. But there is an extra mic set up on stage, and a light green strat set up nearby, and the effect is inevitably one of showing your five year-old a giant cookie before serving dinner. Sure, she may like chicken and broccoli. And she’ll eat it with gusto. But she’s fixated on that damn cookie.
To be clear though, “Oncoming Traffic” was sublime. Same with “Come and Go Blues,” which features thick juicy work by Derek. “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” features Danny Louis from Gov’t Mule on keys, and Marc on Jaimoe’s kit. The song comes on with a snaky, insistent waddle into the opening vocal section. Then Derek goes for the gut, Warren stings, Derek stings. Then Derek goes off the hook, as the kids say, before returning perfectly to the song. Derek steps up on the post-song stretchy play-out, then shrinks down to a tinkle…
And finally, the cookie.
The ovation is intense.
“Key to the Highway,” and immediately the mofo is ON it. Clapton takes the vocals, Warren spanks it, Derek soars, then Gregg takes a verse (“Give me one kiss mama…”). Then Clapton goes off and gets it again. It’s just an 8-bar blues, but there is a multi-minute standing ovation. Butch, sticks aloft, bows to Clapton in the “We’re not worthy” mode. Big fun. But we’re just getting started.
Next up is “Dreams,” a brilliant choice. It is to Clapton’s credit that he wants to assay this ultimate Allman guitar vehicle; he could have easily fallen back on something familiar to him from his own or the classic blues repertoire. Derek is the focal point, as he is for much of Clapton’s time on stage; the song rocks like a boat on a lake in summer. Clapton takes the first solo slot, peeling off note clusters; then he floats off on his back into the song. We drift along for the ride, until he pulls up and Derek enters. His solo builds and builds until he is bouncing bright shards off the walls. Then an exquisite moment as he hits the return note and the band throttles back onto the waltz time of the verse. The stops and changes are almost too much fun.
Next Clapton and band ask the musical question “Why Does Love Got to be So Sad.” Derek tosses in the arty flourishes on the chorus, then Clapton takes a vintage Clapton run, and Warren sears; smoke rises from his strings. In front of me, Becca turns back, smiles… then Derek takes us all the way home, truly, home to that happy place deep inside. Then Derek and Clapton fly together. Eric sings through his guitar, Derek an angel above. Warren has stopped playing, letting the two of them have the space they need; then he joins in, the music is like colorful tears of light streaming down your face, three men taking turns reaching in and touching your heart, the band in the opposite of a hurry, until finally, inevitably, the song touches down. It almost makes you want to cry; to call this music beautiful would be trite.
I need a moment…
“Little Wing” is different, elegiac, yet picks up in the exact spot “Why Does Love…” leaves off. Warren and Clapton sing the verse together, then Warren takes a soaring solo, evoking—well, evoking the British gentleman on the right of the stage, He hits that spot that hurts with pleasure, lingers there… Derek’s lead gives way seamlessly to Clapton, Oteil throws down, finally everyone turns to face Butch, who drives the song home.
When Susan Tedeschi comes on we know it’s going to be “Anyday.” Warren does a little nasty, then Susan sings the verse, Warren plays skronky. Warren and Susan sing into the same mic for the chorus, a happy song radiating its joy; then Derek renders that joy on guitar.
If you’ve come this far then really, I don’t need to tell you that they come back and encore with “Layla.” Derek plays the Duane licks over Clapton’s vocals, and Clapton positively sings the crap out of it. Danny Louis is back onstage, joining Gregg for the classic piano coda to the song; Clapton provides some chiming strat tone, then Derek, Derek, Derek. The band locks onto the classic groove, drums, bass, guitars all melding together, Derek peeling over the top, just leaning on the endorphin lever, quite literally causing the room of 3,000 to secrete joy. Finally, inevitably it is over.
The lights come up, we look around at each other, smiling. There is nothing to say; just an unspoken, “I know, you know.” This is why we have come. It is why we keep coming back.