So I had the great good fortune to find myself in San Francisco concurrent with the first-time-in-six-years arrival of the Allman Brothers Band in the Bay Area, at Oakland’s laid back, lovely (well, I thought so) Fox Theater last night.
Don’t Want You No More >
Not My Cross to Bear >
Trouble No More
Walk on Gilded Splinters
Who’s Been Talkin’
Don’t Keep me Wonderin’
And It Stoned me
Aint Wastin’ Time No More
Rocking Horse >
Black Hearted Woman >
One Way Out
Let me tell you up front, this was one mofo of a satisfying show. It left me wondering what they planned to do for the next night; they didn’t leave a whole lot on the table.
On the bluesy slam into “Not My Cross to Bear” Warren brings me back to 1969, a heck of a feat because I was only 10 years old and 4 years from even hearing of the Allman Brothers. A timeless, grounded evocation; then Derek rings out with a wave of tone that unfolds across the room.
“Gilded Splinters” rides in on an easy, greasy wave of percussion, an especially funked-up, swampy N’Awlins version. At the end the two guitars intertwine like dancing flames.
So now it’s the slot in the set for Warren’s first vocal, and as if often the case, “Gilded Splinters” is followed by the steady voodoo Latin-tinged beat that underscores “Who’s Been Talkin’,” for my money one of the best songs in the repertoire right now. It is as if Howlin’ Wolf has been re-imagined, with Carlos Santana in the Hubert Sumlin role. Derek and Warren play wispy Latin lines, a beautiful extended Yin/Yang conversation that gives way seamlessly to the song’s melody, then Warren’s vocals. Warren plays a graceful, flowing solo, then ignites; Derek takes the band into hyperdrive, then the crowd erupts when they hit the mark and are back into the song. Warren, again, appears to be the causin’ of it all as the music gently fades.
“Statesboro” is next, recognizable and popular, but the fact that it is better-received by the crowd than the previous song is anomalous…
A passionate “Don’t Keep me Wonderin’,” a tight songish rendition of “And It Stoned Me” (apparently big in the Bay Area), and then the band tumbles into what turns out to be a truly epic read on “Jessica.” The drums crash through as the band romps into the theme. Derek goes all shiny-light, then Warren grabs you by the ass and gives a good yank. Then, instead of a rush to the climax, the music seems to spontaneously fall away. From the chaotic stillness Derek and Warren embark on a new melodic excursion that, of course, picks up momentum, hits critical mass, and seamlessly turns back into “Jessica.” A big, big close to a big song. As I say, epic.
Thank God this is intermission, because I am emotionally exhausted.
The second set begins with a particularly lush and breezy “Melissa.” On “Aint Wastin’ Time No More” Derek takes us on a little vacation; then Warren lays down a nice little three-day weekend. The sound, I should mention, is exquisite, at least where I’m standing; full and clear as a bell. It’s one of those nights where you’re a thirsty flower and the band is the sun…
Oteil lays down a sprightly little vamp, the drummers fall in, Warren sears over the top (it’s kind of like a blackened Cajun jam); Derek speckles over that; inevitably the music creeps toward resolving into “Rocking Horse.” Warren goes deep into the big muddy on his solo section, then Derek takes the band major key for what Ron E. calls his “happy kid-on-a-tricycle song.” “Rocking Horse” has become another epic, and tonight it is redolent of narrative. Back into the darkness of the “Horse,” then a fat hanging note that the band grabs onto and uses to whip itself around into “Dreams.” Mostly I drift away; Derek squeezes out shimmering gobs of molasses.
“Black Hearted Woman” is next, an assault; the mid-section, where they switch over into the Dead’s “The Other One” riff, is made of the intensity of forward motion. It feels like the drum solo, but no… they finish the song, then fall backward into “Mountain Jam.” Maybe it’s just me, but it is a dreamy version. As the music falls away after the front end, Oteil lays down some narrative from the underside (which rhymes with “thunda-cide.”) Then he gets to the end of the story, and the drums…
…some time later ensemble “Birdland” quotes call me back from my drum-induced trance reverie. The band moves into a beautiful musical space, full and rubbery, elongating space and time… “Little Martha” bubbles up, quite distinctly… then, back, back to the theme and close. More narrative, more epic.
After a show like this, I know there’s really only one way out… but because this is a night of just a little bit more, Derek and Warren come back alone and offer up “Preachin’ Blues,” Warren singing, Derek playing the delta blues. Then, “One Way Out.”
All in all one heck of a show. The bar is high for tonight.