By: Josh Chasin
If you’re keeping score at home, you’ll want to place a little gold star next to this one.
The home stretch begins, the four-show run through closing weekend. The peeps from out of town are in the house, and right out of the gate (and all through the first set), the band is playing so well that it seems they have deliberately kicked it up a notch for the final run.
The Allman Brothers take the stage as the Sopranos theme plays out, and there is a deep swelling overture that can only be leading into “Les Brers.” The band goes “Crunch! Crunch!” on the big majestic movie theme opening, Derek posits a question on guitar, and finally, Oteil does the dance that sends the song off, with a sweeping grace. Gregg hits a funky groove; Warren, not playing, stands by him and enjoys it. Then from across the stage you hear an unmistakable Derek Trucks hanging line, announcing his entrance, for a sweet solo. Warren then makes a casual entrance, and works his way up the ladder. Meanwhile, Oteil is having a party over on his side, and Butch is invited. Warren is making his sad guitar squeal on his solo, ending in a quick ascent, then a 2-guitar confab, into a drum interlude. Then Warren returns, playing curled, twisting lines, giving way to straight-on double time fire. Warren is dishing it out at the high end, then the band assertively brings the song to a close. The final moments feature excessive thrumble from the drums.
Any show that opens with “Les Brers” already has a leg up.
Gregg counts off “Statesboro Blues,” which features a nice Warren slide work-out, but honestly, after “Les Brers” it feels like a palette cleanser. Derek gets up on his hind legs as he sprays out a taut solo climaxing in a happy breakdown. Warren offers a low key run leading back into the vocals.
On “Come and Go Blues,” Derek plays looping, purple lines between Gregg’s vocal lines. The solo break features a nice bracing round by the guitarists; after the next vocal section, Warren solos right in the pocket.
Next, Oteil begins with a happy shuffle, Derek does the snoopy dance over the top, and it feels a little like “Blue Sky,” so it is no surprise when Oteil steps to the mic and the song is “Franklin’s Tower.” The band rides over a Gregg groove, Derek takes flight, then vocals. Out of the verse Warren flits, darts, weaves; then he finds the bend, the shake, the sway to the song, revels in it, and the house is swaying and shimmying along accordingly. On the return to the vocals, the two guitarists come together and quote precisely the “Blue Sky” transition lick, then one of the guitarists hits a note that punctuates the “Blue Sky” sentence, before Oteil sings the final verse.
“Come On into My Kitchen,” electric, gets off to a nice easy-breezy start and moves to a jaunt. The vocals, especially on the closing harmony chorus, are sweet. Gregg is feisty like a lion of the vocals to “End of the Line.” On the solo break, Warren goes first, then does a seamless hand-off to Derek, as if Derek is finishing the solo Warren has begun. Derek resonates and shreds, a solid yellow noise on the outro.
The Gregg Allman horns join the band and Warren steps gingerly into “Dreams to Remember” like it’s a hot bath, deep soulful vocals. Oteil has planted himself in a place where it looks like he’s the fourth horn player. This is a good horn song; Jay Collins plays some sweet soul sax, yielding to some sweet Derek Trucks. Then swaying, swelling horns, as Derek sends up delightful flairs and Warren sings wringing vocals.
Every conversation in the room stops as the band attacks the opening lick to “Layla.” “Holy F-word,” I write in my notebook. I wonder who they’re showing off for. Then I realize, oh yeah, it’s us. Gregg is right on the money, anchoring the coda with precise piano, giving Derek the solid base for his excursions. Derek just goes off, playing as high as it is possible to play and still be both crystal clear, and audible to the human ear (indeed there are dogs scratching at the doors on both sides of the hall; they want in.) His lines in the coda are impossibly bright and glorious, wave after transcendent wave of bright colors shimmers out. He is scratching itches you didn’t even know you had. This is not a song you can easily make your own, and the band and Derek have done just that. It may well be the best “Layla” I’ve ever heard live. As they slam to the close, the place is going nuts. It has been one hell of a set.
The horns are back, and guitarist Jimmy Vivino (Max Weinberg Seven; NYC session ace) has joined the band for a gritty, spit’n’polish “Before the Bullets Fly” to open the second act Vivino wades in slowly at first, then plays the soul blues with string-bending agony. Derek follows with a five-alarm frenzy. Vivino clashes a few times with the band, but in the end triumphs. Then Vivino leaves, and the horns stay on, for “Please Call Home.” The band makes a beautiful, graceful entrance, the horns adding punch and pepper. Warren provides the sweet and the sour as he plays against Gregg’s vocals. Jay Collins plays a sweet tenor sax solo over a whiter shade of organ; then Derek writes across the sky in beautiful script. Warren plays a biting blues lead, then Derek plays the mirror image opposite of the blues. A lovely read, and you wish they’d play it once in a while when there wasn’t a horn section in the house.
A brisk “Trouble No More” is followed by “High Cost of Low Living.” Derek hit the solo bridge just right; his solo is a poem, a river, then bouncing, searing lines that erupt like a geyser of colored light. Finally, he tucks it all gently, safely in bed. This was a guitar solo as compositional art.]
“Hot ‘lanta” is a sock in the jaw. Bam! Gregg’s organ swings, Derek goes off on a jazzy side trip; this read of the song is all shiny and metallic.
Next they slide into the dreamy “Dreams” waltz. Now they’re just toying with us. Warren’s solo begins, and soon that demon Warren’s got me in his sway. When “Dreams” works this well, review is impossible, because you just sort of shut your eyes and drift out of your body. When I got back, it turned out my body hadn’t written a damn thing. Warren’s solo is so spot-on good that when the band takes that vibrating riff that heralds the transition from solo to final section of the song, the house erupts and the crowd actually hits the note, filling the hall with a glee that resonates from the ceiling.
Consider that. The band has played US.
An aggressive “Black Hearted Woman,” and quickly we’re waist deep into the river Jabuma. Tonight the light show is particularly noteworthy, images evoking some twisted cross between the opening to a 60s Bond movie and rich psychedelia, all in celebration of the female form. Out of drums, Oteil takes a solo, putting out a deep tone, then soloing against it. He slaps out a syncopated rhythm as the drummers enter again; Derek joins on rhythm as Oteil solos and soars over the top. Then the music does a tumble, rolls over; Oteil’s solo has become the bass line, and the backing rhythm has morphed into song. Derek solos over Oteil and the drums, then Warren steps forward and matches Derek’s lines. Warren then steps to the mic and growls a vocal rendition of the song’s transition lick, and almost unbelievably, we’re right back where we started when the song began almost a half hour ago. The triplet coda out of the song features a Derek Middle Eastern dance over the top on a prolonged jam; indeed the entire piece from Oteil’s solo through the end has been a great big jam on rye, and a highlight.
The horns are back out for the encore. Derek’s opening lines are so ripe moisture adheres to them; Warren and Derek climb together, then Derek stings as the band lurches into “The Same Thing,” an inspired encore choice. The horns play a harmony part with searing precision. Warren follows with some hot sear of his own; smoke rises from the strings by his right hand. Then Oteil grabs the ball and takes off on a solo backed by drums, and as he moves into a new measure you can hear that he’s thrown the switch, changed up from a blues vamp to da funk. Jim Seely plays some satiny trumpet lines over a boiling roil of rhythm guitar, Oteil is locked into a circular funk groove. The band eases back into a jazzier space for Derek, and he plays a solo in the style of a horn part, before turning it up to guitar shred. Derek hands off to Warren, then grabs it back, then Warren, Derek and Collins do quick rounds, but you really have to feel for Collins trying to catch the dragon by the tail. My buddy Sam, who happens to own some small portion of the rights to some classic P-Funk records, beams to me, jaw agape, “This is funk!” As in, not just the Allman Brothers playing in a funk style, but this is the real honest to goodness deal. All I can say in response is, “Hunh! Good gawd!”
Derek wails, the song goes on and on… then everyone hits hard on the riff, and off we go into the dark good night. An auspicious beginning to the final weekend.
Les Brers In A Minor
Come and Go Blues
Come On Into My Kitchen
End of The Line
Dreams to Remember*
Just Before Bullets Fly* (Jimmy Vivino)
Please Call Home*
Trouble No More
High Cost of Low Living
Black Hearted Woman
*Gregg Allman Horns