23 August 2004 – The Patriot Ledger
Now celebrating its 35th anniversary, the Allman Brothers Band is the finest it’s been.
Keyboardist and lead vocalist Gregg Allman – healthier and singing better than he has in a decade – must be proud. He is able to look at his namesake band like a knowing sage, carrying it through a musical renaissance, one where all of the old Allmans staples – hurtling, lean blues-rock jams laid on audiences with all the subtlety of a runaway train – combine with new ones: a greater attention to dynamics, serious jazz inflections and more refined technical mechanics.
As if that newfound sense of purpose and dignity weren’t enough (ousted original guitarist Dickey Betts is no longer missed), it’s nice to know that the band can surprise even the most devoted, seen-it-all fan. They did just that in a 2-hour, 20-minute workout at the Tweeter Center Saturday, mixing bold, amped- up readings of once-tired originals with a daunting selection of largely well-chosen cover tunes.
As recently as five years ago an Allman Brothers concert would have brought the same cranked-out run throughs of the same tunes each night. Now their sets are as wildly eclectic and unpredictable as those of the modern jam bands they helped spawn – and leagues more advanced in the intensity, gravity and interest of their jams.
The band’s core remains the double guitar tandem of Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes – one a prodigious young scarecrow and the other a mighty lion. At 25, Trucks ranks among rock’s greatest and most technically adept guitar virtuosos; at 44, Haynes is already a rock legend. The two were up and at it right from the start, and the band was full of surprises: opening with the traditionally epic closer “Mountain Jam,” weaving expertly into a sublime version of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and then blasting into “One Way Out,” also typically a show- closer.
It was evident early on that this would be no “ordinary” Allmans show, as few are anymore. More stirring selections followed: a ripping version of “Rocking Horse,” long a mainstay of Haynes’ band Gov’t Mule, and then two radio staple Allman classics, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” (with an elegantly squealing guitar injection from Trucks) and “Midnight Rider.”
Then things got even more interesting: Haynes led a slick, roaring take on Derek and the Dominoes’ “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” bending his own solo into the funky bounce that would lead to an especially eye-popping cover, the Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower,” sung with lilting Garcian punch by bassist Oteil Burbridge. The jam out of “Franklin’s” brought yet another left turn: a rushed cover of Dr. John’s “Walk On Gilded Splinters,” that despite more gritty vocals from Allman failed to jell and do justice to the sultry R&B luster of the original.
But the brothers remain ever-resilient; as if sensing a crowd reaction to the show’s saturation with cover selections, they dipped headlong into vintage Allmans territory to finish the set. Among the highlights came the mournful, gut-wrenching waltz “Dreams” (with Haynes’ finest, most knee-weakening solo of the night) and then a beloved old instrumental, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” which included some inspired call and response between Haynes and Burbridge before turning the stage over to the three drummers. Better-than-average percussive pyrotechnics followed, and the band returned to reprise “Mountain Jam” after some quick guitar interplay on Mongo Santamaria’s jazz standard, “Afro Blue.”
Returning to thunderous encore cheers, the band launched into a rumbling, bat-out-of-hell reading of their mightiest of showstoppers, “Whipping Post.” Haynes was the dominator here; unlike Trucks, his Allman Brothers tenure stretches back to the days where the jams were all grit and ballast, and he built his solo from a slow, ominous, fuse-setting beginning to an explosion of guitar pyrotechnics. Trucks’ wild, jazzy cadences aren’t necessarily less intense, it’s just that a full throttle “Whipping Post” requires a punishing, all-meat assault the young prodigy has yet to fully acquire despite his considerable virtuosity. While the stirring nuances of Boston fusion trio The Slip’s improvisation-heavy jazz/ rock were a bit lost in the pre-Allmans cacophony of crowd chatter and relative disinterest, the band made the most of a 45-minute set and probably made a few new fans. The Allman Brothers
At the Tweeter Center, Mansfield, on Saturday.
Chad Berndtson, The Patriot Ledger
Copyright (c) 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.