The Allman Brothers Band

Gloriously pure Allman Band Band improves with age

By: Jeff Spevak
For The Rochester, NY, Democrat & Chronicle
8/3/2003

This is my reward for sitting through Justin Timberlake the night before. If I ever catch myself thinking, — gee, Creed’s really rockin’ tonight, — I’ll go home and put on Live at Fillmore East.

The Allman Brothers Band destroyed all pretenders Saturday night at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on its yearly August stop in western New York, highlighted by a blistering “ Whipping Post” near the end of the night.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve witnessed a number of shows — Cher, B2K and Christina Aguilera with Justin Timberlake — in which I’ve suspected lip syncing and pre-recorded track enhancement were possible. Anything can be happening behind the scenes with those kinds of overblown productions. With the Allman Brothers Band, that’s never an issue. They hire some scraggly looking guys to drag the instruments off the trucks and the band plays them, in a gloriously pure fashion. No dancing bimbos onstage, just some murky lights and psychedelic, Rorshach test patterns swirling on the huge screen behind the band. But the 7,000 on hand understood those patterns.

About the only surprise of the night was only 7,000 turned out. The Allmans usually draw twice that here. But in this age of high-priced tickets, today’s well-heeled bikers and accountants may be opting for the Dead and Dylan show later this week at Darien, which has already sold 17,000 tickets.

The Allmans pulled off an extraordinarily tight set with it a lineup that’s undergone quite a few changes over the years. Gregg Allman and twin drummers Jai Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks are all that’s left of the early days.

Two of the newer additions are the most dynamic. Twin guitarists Warren Haynes (he joined around 1990, leading a resurrection of the band) and young Derek Trucks specialize in the kind of weaving guitar interplay that the late Duane Allman and the now-deposed Dickey Betts elevated to the defining symbol of southern rock. Throughout the night, the pair engaged in spiraling duels; Haynes would hit a note and leave it hanging. Trucks would snatch it out of the air and build something.

It’s a different band without Betts, maybe jazzier and more interesting. Less country, certainly, without “ Blue Sky” and “ Rambling Man” in the lineup. But “ Southbound,” which Betts would sing, did get aired, with Haynes handling the vocals. He plays a major role in all things Allman now, particularly the new material, which seems very strong.

Gregg Allman remains the riveting centerpiece of the band, now more than ever. With his blond hair tied back in a braided ponytail, he oozes the distant charm of a forgotten Beat poet now rediscovered. His voice continues to grow bluesier, and can send chills down your spine, particularly on a welcome classic like “ Midnight Rider.”

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe is becoming the hip opener for the major players of the groove and jam scene. He was at the Blue Cross Arena at the Community War Memorial last fall with the Dave Matthews Band, and now is touring with the Allmans, who weren’t shy about bringing both Denson and other members of Tiny Universe onstage for jams. Denson, a shaven-headed, pharaoh-goateed reed player, favors a ‘70s fusion of jazz and funk. Stuff like Hugh Masekela’s “ Almost Seedless” seem serious enough. But you’re really a player if you can get away with endless variations on the ‘70s cheese “ Car Wash.”

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