No One Left to Run With
Trouble No More
Leave My Blues at Home
Worried Down With the Blues
Midnight Rider >
You Don’t Love Me
Dusk Till Dawn
Aint Wastin’ Time No More
Walk on Gilded Splinters
In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
The Sky is Crying
e: Whipping Post
In 1989 a friend bought us a pair of tickets to see Gregg Allman at Avery Fisher Hall for my birthday. The show turned out to be a reunion of the Allman Brothers band, who had gotten together to tour behind the Dreams box set. I don’t know anyone who would have thought on that night that the band would continue on, with numerous line-up changes, but uninterrupted for another 25 years…
In 1992 I took a date to an Allman Brothers show at the Beacon, and while I enjoyed, it, I was too worried about making small talk to really immerse myself in the music. So I went back another night, and then another. That was, for them and me, the beginning of what has become a Manhattan rite of Spring: the annual Beacon run (I wrote about the Brothers and New York City post-1989 in this program.)
So it is with mixed emotions that I approach this final Beacon run. There’s excitement, of course, because for three weeks I basically loose myself in the bluesy jazzy rock’n’roll world the band creates, and I come out the other end rejuvenated (if exhausted). But then there’s a sadness too, a sense of melancholy, because this truly is the end of the line. So I’m going all in this run. I’ve got tickets to 10 of the 14 shows, and it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that I squeeze in another one or two… and I plan to write about it all the way through.
The lights are down, Derek and Warren are on stage, and Warren announces their arrival with some bottleneck slide; Derek responds, and they’re duetting on “Old Friend,” the delta blues that closes 2003’s Hitting the Note; it’s only the ninth time they’ve played it. Opening the final Beaxcon run, it feels especially poignant… as does the follow-up with the full band, “No One Left to Run With,” which arrives after the drummers lay down an intro on the song’s Bo Diddley beat. Oteil is wearing glasses. Derek runs WAY up the neck, the band goes along with him; it’s a taut, concise version, no extended jam, all Diddley. Then a similarly taut “Trouble No More.” “Leave My Blues at Home” features a fast, four-handed picking interlude, and then at the end, Derek and Warren face off for the first extended jam of the night.
Warren’s “Worried Down With the Blues” is a gooey, sticky, in-the-pocket delight. Derek plays some big, fat tone, then pleads and cries; then Warren reaches right down your throat and gives your very soul a playful yank. Highlight.
Then bam, “True Gravity.” It’s the first time they’ve played this since 2000, and only the second time since Dickey left the band. A frisky opening, and beautiful, round ringing harmony licks, to a crescendo; then the band dives down, down the rabbit hole. (For not the last time tonight, I think to myself, “I’m gonna miss this.”) Derek leads an excursion that comes back to the theme. Truthfully, the song is not fully realized. But it will be, and soon…
Gregg delights the crowd with “Midnight Rider.” Then the band rolls right out of that into “You Don’t Love Me.” Warren goes to town on slide; Derek tears it up with fingers. Jaunty good fun. Warren sings “Dusk Till Dawn,” Derek plays the spaces between the notes, making sweet, tiny runs. The band finishes off with a soft landing. Then the sweet lilt of “Aint Wastin’ Time No More” to close the set. Out of the vocals, Derek announces himself with a note that fills the room to bursting, then plays a dazzling, surprisingly aggressive solo that just drips narrative. Warren counters with a more subdued solo, and they fall in together to bring the somg home.
Gregg is up front to open set two on acoustic guitar for “Melissa;” Oteil dashes out after they’ve begun to quickly join in. It’s simple but lovely. Then the drummers begin the cajun syncopation that heralds “Walk on Gilded Splinters” to scattered applause, as the cognoscenti recognize the song just from the beat; Warren layers swampy runs over the simmering drum section, Gregg does some dirty singing.
At this point I think to myself, “Dreams” would be great right about now. So when they roll into the waltz time of that song, I’m not even a little surprised. Derek plays about as perfect a solo as you can play on this one, starting slowly, all teasy foreplay, taking his sweet time, building slowly, deliberately. Then finally he kicks into high gear, Warren’s chording driving the band, and soon the whole band is vibrating, shimmering, shuddering behind Derek, through repeated climaxes. It seems like someone has spiked Derek’s catnip; he has been incredibly present and in-your-face all night.
And of course they don’t actually stop at the end of “Dreams,” instead sprinkling some blue mist, over which Warren plays a little tone poem, until finally it flips over inevitably into “Elizabeth Reed.” Warren takes his time, vamping over sprightly Derek chording until finally, when they’re good and ready, the guitars state the theme. Then Derek tears it up, and then Gregg, urged on by Warren’s insistent nods and head tosses, takes an actual point-of-fact solo– not just playing the organ part, but free-styling, beautifully, the band churning and chugging underneath, until finally he goes to the familiar transitional organ riffs. Derek and the drummers keep choogling, and Warren goes over and gets Oteil, squaring off with him, and the two of them play off each other while Derek drives the rhythm train; Warren and Oteil are actually playing a twin solo over the frenetic rhythmic beat, Oteil intertwining his bass all up in Warren’s lead lines. Finally Warren turns to leave… and then something happens… Oteil summons him back with a question of a bass riff, kicking the thunda up a notch… and Warren comes BACK, they square off some more, and they’re at it again, even hotter than before, the crowd now amped up to 11. Then finally the drum break– but the rest of the band stays on, it is just a break, not a solo– and then bam! A dash to the close. There is an exclamation point in my notebook. The crowd is going nuts, and I’m calling it the best Liz Reed I’ve seen in years.
Then a slow, gooey intro to “The Sky is Crying,” a big, dewey, juicy version; it almost seems too easy after the “Dreams”/”Liz” couplet. It’s like a victory lap. Derek offers up one of those leads he plays where you can’t tell where notes end and tone begins. Then the band closes out the set with a frisky “Revival,” the players fall away and the three guitarists turn their backs to the crowd and cluster around Marc, who is featured on a brief percussion interlude. Then everyone comes back in, Derek takes a run, then Warren, who layers the “Mountain Jam” melody into his solo. then he falls back into the “Revival” melody, as does the rest of the band, and they end almost where they begin, with the “Revival” rhythm reminiscent of the Bo Diddley beat of “No One Left to Run With.”
It’s only 11:21 on a Friday, so there’s little doubt that “Whipping Post” will be the encore. Warren shows Derek some sparse little lines, Derek gives them back, then shows Warren a chorded melody, and Warren responds with harmony licks on top. Then Warren takes the lead,, the band hurtling forward like a runaway train about to burst through the Beacon walls… and tied to the whipping post. All in all, not a bad night.
The first set was a little spotty pacing-wise, but the second set was killer diller all through, not a note wasted. Derek in particular was stellar, and way more animated and physically emphatic than usual; and because this band is symbiotic and empathetic, Warren gave him room. Tonight it could be very different…