By: Scott Mervis
For: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh doesn’t have its own summer jam-band festival where hippies young and old can congregate, like All Good or JerryFest.
Instead, we skimmed the cream off the top with a pair of artists who invented the genre: the Allman Brothers Band and Bob Weir & Ratdog. If Jerry Garcia were still alive, the bill would have been flipped for sure, but there was Weir in the opening slot at the Post-Gazette Pavilion Wednesday night, going on at the dinner hour of 6:30 p.m.
It’s been long enough for most of the T-shirts on the fans to reflect this post-Garcia era. There were plenty of tie-dyed shirts of Ratdog or just The Dead twirling on the lawn. Weir, giving up the boyish look for a gray beard and Wilfred Brimley moustache, drew most of his set from the Grateful Dead’s heyday. In fact, with “Casey Jones” on board, along with “Uncle John’s Band” and “Touch of Grey,” it was practically a greatest hits show.
They started with “The Music Never Stopped,” an endlessly funky jam that grooved along on a loop for guitarist Steve Kimock to take off on spidery, Garcia-like flights. The wah-wah funk of “Estimated Prophet” provided a similar launching point for a spirited free-form jam.
Weir mixed it up with “Mama Tried” in the cowboy slot, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” in the Dylan slot and a slow, pretty “Peggy-O” that could make you shed a tear for Jerry. When they got to “Throwing Stones,” around sunset, and around the time the drugs and alcohol seemed to be kicking in, there was a warm glow over the entire hillside where the kids were shaking their bones. One of those transcendent moments.
The Allmans have much more of a presence on classic rock radio but chose not to indulge that aspect of the band. They spent a lot of years in the latter Dickie Betts days playing the same ol’ set night after night. Now, the Allmans are spontaneous and unpredictable, with a vast repertoire that Wednesday night included lesser-known gems like “Rocking Horse” and “Desdemona.”
Of course, with guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks at center stage, they could make something out of the Wiggles catalog. The song is just there to set up the dueling guitar jam, driven by Gregg Allman’s funky organ work and the three powerhouse drummers in the back. The band’s m.o. is an intricately constructed solo by the little dog, Trucks, usually with a dangerous slide in there somewhere, followed by big dog Haynes grinding on the strings with the fury of a behemoth. On every solo, every song.
As if two of the best guitarists in the world weren’t enough, the Allmans brought out a third weapon in red-headed blues-slinger Susan Tedeschi. The highlight of the set may have been her dead-perfect duet with bassist Oteil Burbridge on the Derek and the Dominos’ classic “Anyday.” She also took the reins and showed what a girl can do with a savage solo on “Lost Lover Blues.”
Gregg faded into the background somewhat in this show, and even sounded a bit frail stepping out on the acoustic “Melissa.” From the greatest hits, the Allmans threw in “Midnight Rider” and “You Don’t Love Me,” and the centerpiece proved to be the fine pickin’ on “Mountain Jam” that launched the bass and drum solos and boogied out of it.
“One Way Out,” featuring Gregg’s best vocal, put the icing on four solid hours of heady, vintage jamming from some of the folks who do it best.