By: Mike Curtin
For: The Post Star
SARATOGA SPRINGS – As the Saratoga Performing Arts Center enters its fifth decade of pop music presentations, the Allman Brothers Band has become its most regular, and maybe most welcome, visitors.
Not Santana, not Steve Miller, not even Chicago has played the Saratoga Springs park with such unerring frequency as these lords of Southern rock, with near-yearly appearances since their resurgence in the early ’90s, and God knows how many more before.
On Sunday, one of rock’s most durable institutions returned to perform before a more-than-healthy gathering of 13,000.
With little else scheduled on the Deadhead front until later this fall (when Phil Lesh brings his band to the Glens Falls Civic Center), and the Allmans’ more grizzled admirers being way too old for Dave Matthews’ show later this month, Sunday was an evening for jam band fans to savor seven hours of top-shelf rock, blues and soul – a melange that has been America’s prime musical export since the 1960s.
For those who abhor the sound of the slide guitar, the corner of Route 50 and Avenue of the Pines was not the place to be.
The Allmans’ guitarists, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, wailed like banshees on material both homegrown and drawn from the the grand artists of the last century.
Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” and old Allman staples like “Statesboro Blues” were launching pads for searing solo after searing solo, as each tried to top the other in a friendly “cutting contest” where the ultimate winners were the fans themselves.
At midset, the band was joined by guitarist Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars, with the new kid providing enough sparks to claim a possible role in future Allman line-ups.
But not now. The group’s current roster – Haynes and Trucks, founders Gregg Allman, drummers Jaimoe Johanson and Derek’s uncle Butch Trucks, longtime percussionist Mark Quinones and bassist Oteil Burbridge -represent the longest-lasting of any of its incarnations, and provided a firm footing for Gregg’s impassioned vocals on “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” and “End of the Line.”
The exuberant instrumental “Jessica,” from the group’s 1973 album, “Brothers and Sisters,” was saved for the encore.
For the oldest fans, there was still something lacking – no “Blue Sky,” no “Ramblin’ Man,” no Dickey Betts, although ironically the former Allman guitarist will bring his own band Wednesday to the Empire State Plaza in Albany for a free show.
Lingering animosities still keep the the warring camps apart, but what remains is an ensemble with an embarassment of riches and the zeal to still perform at the top of its game.
The North Mississipi All-Stars provided plenty of fireworks during its hour set, which brought an impressive crowd down from the lawn and beer tent.
Led by brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson (sons of famed Memphis music master James Dickinson), the triad put its own spin on the classic power trio sound of the late ’60s. “Hear My Train a-Comin’” was played with a Jimi Hendrix-like ferocity; bassist Chris Chew shone on a buoyant take of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness”; and the band’s original compositions showed a solid knowledge of New Orleans second-line rhythms.
Opening were Alligator recording artists JJ Grey and Mofro.