By: Josh Chasin
It is Saturday night, March 25, and the boys aim to please.
“Mountain Jam” kicks in right out of the box; no extended noodling, no long slow climb, just right into it. Derek goes right for the theme lick, then backs off, freestyles a short bit, then he, Warren and the band play the theme. Out of that Derek plays a particularly crunchy solo, then pulls the train almost entirely off the tracks with a solo that hangs out almost entirely past the twelfth fret. Gregg steps forward for a tasteful read on his section. Warren starts off airy, breezy; then he rides the tiger, tames her, shoots streamers over the crowd from her back, then wrestles… the… beast… down… to… Jabuma. Actually, it’s more of a Jabuma appetizer, a relatively brief interlude before Oteil returns with a sacred solo giving way to a driving funk riff. Then the guitars play the twin licks of the march section, Derek steps up and sizzles, then Warren and Derek join together and pull up, to applause. Derek is releasing silver balloons of joy; there is an easy moment of transcendence, then a return to the theme.
A full “Mountain Jam” right out of the box; things are pretty intense, pretty early. The band follows with “Midnight Rider,” which in this context seems a necessary palate cleanser. Derek tarts it up some on the outro. It is already clear that this night is aimed to please, and the arrow is hitting the target squarely. Next up the band develops a case of the bumpa-dumpas for “Statesboro Blues.” It is the usual vocal tour de force for Gregg as he growls, then picks himself up with some barrelhouse piano. During his solo, Derek brings his thumb down hard to hammer out a perfect note that he lets hang in the air, a declaration of purpose that he and the band will fulfill.
The “Warren slot” is a two-song punch. On “Soulshine,” the guitars trade sunshine leads over a church organ, and Warren hits the note on his finale solo. Then the yin to “Soulshine’s” yang: “Woman Across the River.” This is a big, scary, dark, ominous version. Tonight the river is muddy as Warren takes his first solo. Gregg does a quick vamp leading into the vocals; then tangy, hot sauce guitars, then vocals. The outro guitar duel is like the bombing of London.
Oteil takes a quick solo in the middle of “Standback,” with the drum section as punctuation. Then Derek solos, as the engine room in the back is sending up all kinds of heat, and Derek turns the steam to light.
Ron Holloway joins the band for “Desdemona.” Marc enters on the upswing into the mid-section, adding a colorful cocoa dimension to the drums. Derek begins a solo, there and not there, then takes flight. Holloway takes the next round, turning up the heat, his sax bursting at the seams. Warren’s solo suggests sharp, crooked lines; then he lays on a full “My Favorite Things” tease (usually Derek does this), moving off that familiar melody and into the minor key hot spot of the middle section, for the return to the verse. Warren is positively vibrating.
There is a pause as Robert Randolph’s pedal steel is set up; then the band alights into “Lovelight.” Randolph goes immediately to town, Warren claps in time with his playing, then sings the first vocal section. Then Randolph plays, and it looks like he’s spinning golden straw, but I’m on the stage, and I can hear him but I don’t think its getting out to the house. Too bad. Derek grabs the ball and goes, then Gregg sings some, to the crowd’s delight. The band vamps and improvises as the techies cluster around Randolph’s rig, setting things right; Holloway plays some vintage soul sax. Finally Randolph is good to go, and he soars. It is one of those “sand in the oyster” moments; the sand is a major irritation to the poor oyster, but eventually you get a shiny pearl. Randolph goes all sacred and profane, making graceful dashes up and down his fretboard, bursting into the happy dance, before Warren hits the vocals again. Adversity has led to unbridled joy. Warren signals a stop, but Derek leaves a note hanging waist-high as the band takes it down; then Derek solos, leading to the inevitable Derek/Randolph, slidy call and response. It is like the mating dance of two very exotic, very rare birds. Warren leans into the final part of the vocals (“Let it shine…”) as Randolph testifies, a righteous back and forth with Warren’s grainy voice until finally Warren wrestles the beast to a close.
Now that’s what I call Saturday night.
Butch comes center stage post- break and, after saying a few words, does a simple introduction: “Beacon Theater? John Hammond.” Hammond is seated, playing an acoustic guitar and harp. His first number, “Drop Down Mama,” is a classic country acoustic blues. Warren joins on acoustic slide for “Just Your Fool;” Warren stings like a bee on his accompaniment. Then Hammond goes electric and leads the band through a drunken, traditionalist take on “Shake for Me.” In the context of the Allman Brothers, this is one of many songs that have several original versions. “Gilded Splinters,” for example, is a Dr. John song, but the “Allmans original” is assuredly the Johnny Jenkins version, which features both Duane and Butch. Similarly, “Shake for Me” is a Howlin’ Wolf song (and first-night guest Hubert Sumlin played on that original), but in Allman-ville, Hammond’s 1969 version with Duane is an original too.
Hammond handles the vocals, while Warren goes back to the source and channels Sumlin (in a very good way). Hammond’s harp and Gregg’s organ fills melt together. Then Gregg sings a verse, and Derek charms the snake on his solo.
Hammond exits for “One Way Out,” which features polished, round-toned licks leading into Gregg’s vocals. The band is totally ON IT tonight, and this song just totally hits the spot all through. We have passed through the gates, past the threshold, and it no longer matters what they choose to play next. The acoustic strums from the stage herald “Melissa,” and Warren shines the sweet, sweet light.
“Rocking Horse” comes on like four shovels full of coal in the oven. Warren’s fire-eating solo keeps turning in on itself, burning hotter, hotter. As he wraps, a guy near me calls out, “Waaarr-rrreeeennn!! Dude!” He says what we’re all thinking.
Oteil clears the decks for Derek, who tiptoes in on cat feet. Soon he’s doing one of his neat tricks, playing very fast licks, but playing them in a laconic way, so they seem to be played slowly. In fact, you can’t really tell how fast he’s playing, because he is playing so slowly… Soon though it’s all fast. Derek takes a rest, lets the music cycle ‘round, then comes at you all over again. Soon he’s racing through lines, then forging with Warren for the return licks, then back to the song part of the song. Warren nails it all down, hard… and the drums come over us, nothing subtle, just a full-on attack with deep, rumbling undertones, insistent. Butch hammers out a clarion call on timpani, then the music comes to a quiet place, and Marc does a cool rhythm dance with light accompaniment. Then the three players fall into a brisk movement suggesting a return, before falling into a silence that begins precisely as Oteil drops his entrance note.
Oteil plays a lovely piece, unaccompanied; then turns it into a riff, and the drums latch on. Oteil is trumbalicious on the 5-man shakedown, Derek having joined the fray. Then a fast, groovy riff, the full band falls in, and then a close… out of which emerges the brisk chords to “Revival.” The story that began with “Soulshine” (“better than sunshine”) and continued with “Lovelight” (“Let it shine, let it shine”) culminates now. Can’t you feel it? Love is everywhere. Derek paints with colored light, teasing melodies to and fro. Warren takes off, almost hitting the licks to “Jessica” and “Mountain Jam,” the extended guitar workout section bathing us in light, before the band falls back into the riff and the vocal refrain. And lights are shining everywhere.
After much setting up, the band is augmented by Randolph and Holloway for “Southbound,” which, you don’t need me to tell you, is round after round of joyful release. So I’m going to put away my pad now and dancing the night away.
Woman Across The River
Desdemona (Ron Holloway)
Turn On Your Lovelight (Robert Randolph & Ron Holloway)
Drop Down Mama (John Hammond solo acoustic)
Just Your Fool (John Hammond solo w/Warren)
Shake For Me (w/John Hammond)
One Way Out
Rocking Horse >