ABB - Beacon, NYC, 3/25/2003
Too young to have been at the legendary Fillmore shows, I found myself creating a mental image of the magic, the magnitude, the sheer marathon nature of these events. On this, the first of two nights filmed for the band's upcoming DVD, I got a true taste of that magic-- or at least, of the way I'd imagined it. Presumably owing to the DVD shoot, the band played a set that stuck close to home-- classic tunes, plus new pieces destined to be classics. No guests save for the now semi-regular horn section, and few songs that were not part of the band's core repertoire.
All they did was, they did what they do.
But they did it for nearly four hours, with a mere 15-minute break. And they did it well, and the later it got, the better they got. Until finally they were doing it so well, it was as if you were in the presence of something special. Sadly, the crowd was not as energetic and responsive as a weekend crowd might have been (general buzz: Good band. Bad crowd.) But I'm not concerned; I'm sure they can fix that in post-production.
"Statesboro" begins just like that, and features some nice keyboard work from Gregg. On "Aunt Wasting Time No More," Gregg continues his fine vocal work, Derek wailing on the mid-section solo, Warren taking his turn on the outré. "Woman Across the River" was solid, with Oteil bubbling to the surface, reminding again that he is the unsung hero of this band, and things begin to loosen up.
The momentum seems to slow a tad with "Old Before My Time", but they grab it back with a jaunty "Don't Keep Me Wonderin'", and the (obligatory on video night) sing-along "Midnight Rider."
Warren kicks things up a notch with the mighty "Rocking Horse," positively killing on his monster solo. The other night Derek responded with a softer touch, but tonight he was right there with Warren, up in your face. Back into the vocal section-- which always seems like a feat of derring do, after such furious and extended soloing-- and then straight into "Desdemona." This is a song with an entirely different feel, but which provides a similar forum for the guitarists in mid-section. Gregg's vocals are heartfelt, and "Desdemona" is becoming a crowd favorite, and will be one for years to come. It is an outstanding jamming vehicle, the bluesy verses and chorus giving way to the jazzy instrumental break. Derek is strong out of the box, shredding; Warren takes the slow build, until finally he and the band are into an intense climax. Yes, it was good for me. Then a sweet touchdown back into the song, and Gregg pours out his pain. A quick and driving "Leave My Blues at Home" follows, surely to close the set.
Only it doesn't. Oteil launches into "Instrumental Illness," Warren steps up; he is the big dawg tonight, leading the band into a runaway freight train of ensemble playing. Then we grind to a halt-- and a full-on drum solo. In the first set. The drums were highly improvisational, with Butch and Marc taking turns following each other's leads, Jaimoe anchoring it all, keeping it in the pocket. No bass solo, though, and finally the band strolls back on stage, and they don't miss a beat in picking up the song and driving it home.
It is after ten. The set is gritty, "vanilla" (not in a bad way-- meaning no surprise songs, no guests), and solid, grounded Allman Brothers.
"Melissa" begins the second set, electric, with only Gregg on acoustic. Again Warren takes the climactic solos of the song, although perhaps his acoustic work on this number was more sublime. During "Wasted Words" Derek is furiously chording while Warren tortures his poor guitar with gut-bending, crying lead lines. Oteil anchors the song with a solid bottom, and the full band stretches out on the outré.
Up next, to the surprise and delight of many, is "Dreams." Warren is more prominent than in other nights' versions, playing some stratospheric slide. Warren hits the note that just hangs there in the room, and we soak it up as the song begins again.
After "Dreams" there is a huddle on stage. My guess is they are going to run a passing play. After some discussion Warren tears into "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," rumored to have been an improvisational addition to the setlist. Warren tortures his strings again-- it is the deep blues-- and then Derek plays some nasty, slidy lead, hitting the note.
"Firing Line" is next, a song that sounds live like it could have been on the first album. The performance is particularly strong and gritty considering how deep into the night it is. Indeed, at the song's conclusion, Gregg announces, "The night is young." It was 11:10 PM.
Next up is "Soulshine;" Derek's solo parts the clouds and indeed the soul shines through, Warren plays some positively anthemic lines on the outré then he and Derek are trading extended anthemic lines.
"Every Hungry Woman." "Loving You Too Long", with horns. it is way past 11, and we are being drawn deeper and deeper into some bluesy netherworld. Or more to the point, the bluesy mist has filled every corner of the room. Time has ceased to matter.
Warren's "Loving You Too Long" is pure soul. Then "High Cost of Low Living," with sublime atmospheric work on the outré. Next the horns are back for the stellar 15-minute funked-up version they've been doing of "The Same Thing," a highlight each night it is played. The show has passed some invisible line in the night. Gregg had been right; the night was young. You settle in for the coming onslaught. First Oteil, then Oteil and the horns, for some pure funkadelicity. Then Warren tears it up and it's the blues again. Both guitars blaze on the outré; both play entirely different tones, yet both manage to resonate at the exact frequency of the Beacon.
"One Way Out" brings the show to a close. It is still one of Gregg's finest vehicles. Warren plays some especially tasty slide, and Gregg takes one of his few instrumental spotlights of the night. They leave the stage to great applause; people are also streaming out, because after all, it is after midnight on a work night.
They come back out, and there really isn't any question that they will be encoring with "Whipping Post." The night simply demanded it. Derek takes the first thrilling solo, Oteil's thunderation keeping the driving bottom rock-solid throughout. On the second instrumental break Warren plays long, languid leads; then picks up speed, and the band falls in behind him as one. They careen to an intense, yet drawn out, climax. This one was good foe me too.
It is 12:30. The longest show I've ever seen this band perform. You are worn out, drained, utterly spent physically; yet bathed in the white light of bluesy musical joy that shines from some place deep within. It is as if you have been working out, and you couldn't do a single rep more-- and yet you want nothing else.
And damn, you think as you stumble out into the early morning and track down a cab. They got that all on tape.
Added: Saturday, March 29, 2003
Reviewer: Josh Chasin