Words by: Alex Borsody | Images by: Dino Perrucci
Allman Brothers Band :: 03.26.09 :: Beacon Theatre :: New York, NY
"The Road Goes on Forever."
If you look at all the current incarnations of the Allman Brothers Band and where they are today, it becomes apparent that their music has grown to become a community and a cultural institution. It is more than whoever is in the band at any given time. The ABB is about some of the greatest blues musicians in the world getting together and making the very best music they can produce with no compromises. It was a rainy night in New York City and the band was all business, determined to give a near flawless show that would go down in history.
March 26, 2009, was the official 40th anniversary of The Allman Brothers and the 20th anniversary of their first show at the Beacon Theatre, forty years to the day from the first jam session with the original lineup that sounded so good Duane Allman was quoted as saying, "No one gets out here alive!" Since then, the band continues to evolve and stay contemporary through hard work, dedication and ingenuity. Everyone knew this day was going to be special, and the band brought it "Back to Where It All Begins" by celebrating the music of Duane. While decades have passed, the band was still able to create their original, youthful sound, performing their first two albums in their entirety.
This show was all about The Allman Brothers and there were "no special guests," as was announced by drummer Butch Trucks. Trucks wears many hats and is also a Rhodes scholar, intellectual, Internet entrepreneur and fan liaison. There were rumors Dickey Betts was invited, but when the curtain rose and he wasn't there I was pretty sure it wouldn't happen. Though disappointed, I was so absorbed in the music I did not give it a second thought. A fan can always hope for an onstage reunion somewhere down the road, but personal issues clearly remain. The group seemed to be freed up to play by not having to tend to a special guest. This current lineup is one of the tightest and most talented versions of The Allman Brothers and they gave 110-percent to create a legendary night.
While the Duane Allman penned tune "Little Martha" was the opener for much of the Beacon run, the band started the show a little after 8:00 p.m. with "Don't Want You No More" and followed it up with "Not My Cross to Bear" (the first two songs off their self-titled 1969 debut). Next was "Black Hearted Women," which included a tease of "The Other One." Derek Trucks was already channeling Duane, hitting his licks note for note. Up next came "Trouble No More," followed by "Every Hungry Women," which had Warren Haynes teasing "Foxy Lady" on his signature Gibson reissue of Duane's Hot Lanta Guitar. Derek maintained a dominant lead position on these songs, strongly representing the next generation's voice of this band. His leadership and talent proved that the Allmans are not only something that happened but a group that continues to innovate.
|D. Trucks & Burbridge :: 03.26 :: The Beacon|
"Dreams" and "Whipping Post" were the two songs everyone was waiting for and they really brought back the original Allman Brothers atmosphere. "Dreams" had Warren and Derek trading solos back and forth, playing phrases right off the original album. They played "Whipping Post" with the same dark attitude that made the song such a groundbreaking piece and brought back the classic At Fillmore East sound. Gregg Allman's voice was incredibly youthful, further bolstered by his soulful Hammond B3 playing. He appeared slightly more pale then usual at times, though this was likely due to the strenuous demand of a 15-night run of full tilt rock shows.
Intermission was taken and there were some advertisements on the big screen promoting various aspects of The Allman Brothers empire. Two things are sure: The Allman Brothers Band runs like a well oiled machine and they do what it takes to keep it functioning at "peak" performance. Their business is one with ethics that gives many people a decent, satisfying living. This kind of alternative, fair capitalism is obviously good for the economy, judging by the incredible amount of high priced tickets and other merchandise that was sold. A side note on tickets: this show was in such high demand, that there were scams right and left going on Craigstlist. An usher even told me that a women was stupid enough to buy a fake ticket "printout."
|Quiñones & B. Trucks :: 03.26 :: The Beacon|
The second set began with "Revival," the first song off of their second album, Idlewild South (1970), and included a "Mountain Jam" tease by Derek. Oteil Burbridge's basslines were really holding it down, keeping it to the original songs and giving room for the guitars to go off and explore new territory. Butch Trucks was thoroughly enjoying himself, motivating and steady. Percussionist Jaimoe Johanson was giving all his energy and meant business, while Marc Quiñones was tightly focused. After a very funky, Duane inspired "Don't Keep Me Wonderin'," Gregg and Warren sang a sweet duet of "Midnight Rider."
"In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" followed, one of many Dickey Betts originals, this piece was written in memoriam of a name on a gravestone where Betts used to sit and make out with his girlfriend. Though there was no mention of Dickey the whole run, I felt that Warren was paying homage to him by quoting some of his guitar verses. On "Liz Reed" Oteil broke out his six string bass and the rest of the band stepped back as he took the lead. He broke into his Peacemakers act and started scatting and playing the bass like a jazz guitarist. Oteil mixed in hypnotic and surreal noises on the bass's deep end into this unique solo, creating a voice all his own. He then hopped on a drum kit and played his heart out with the power trio of Jaimoe, Quiñones and Trucks. Seeing a collaboration of four drummers, each on a full kit, is not at all ordinary and proved that The Allmans are at their very best without guests.
"Liz Reed" went straight into "Hoochie Coochie Man," the only cover song on Idlewild South. They then played an emotional "Please Call Home," a great but underplayed song. This impressive, rare performance alone made the show a historic moment for the band. The last song of the album, "Leave My Blues at Home," ended around 11:30, leaving the band just enough time to encore with "Statesboro Blues."
|Allman Brothers Band :: 03.26 :: The Beacon|
"Statesboro" had some minor mistakes that were probably audible only to the diehard fans, but the band was able to laugh it off. These imperfections showed the human nature of this superhuman band, adding a layer of depth. At the end of the song, Gregg said, "Thank you so much. Come back tomorrow night and we'll have more mistakes for you." Warren then went over and hugged him and the lights dimmed, suddenly revealing the massive number of seated and standing guests backstage, a separate audience of middle aged people dressed mostly in suits and ties, with a few kids running around. This reflected a more formal looking version of the greater audience, which was mostly middle aged men, some with their kids. There is a strict no drugs/drinking rule backstage at Allman Brothers shows, which creates a healthy, family friendly environment throughout the venue. Still, the energy was not uptight, offering a clean, earthy high that The Allman Brothers have become known for.
One may come to wonder why this rural, Southern rock band draped with symbols of peaches and mushrooms has such close ties to New York City. The story is long but can be summed up with the fact that New Yorkers have high standards and like good music. This synergy of Southern comfort and big city living is what brought the band to the heights they have achieved today. Growing up in the greater NYC area, I have witnessed many different personalities embrace The Allman Brothers. Once we hit high school, discovering the band was like a rite of passage; even the jocks used to sell Beacon tickets at fundraisers. This band has had a significant impact on every generation since the late '60s due to their tenacious spirit to stay on top of their game and not become a nostalgia act. From the Swedish travelers who waited twenty years to finally see the group live at the Beacon to the biker security guard who schooled me about some Allman Brothers history, it was evident how much this music means to so many people.
The recognition that Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks have received in popular music creates a link to the new generation, allowing young people to experience this level of the blues, which celebrates the best melodic flat-picking and slide guitar collaborations. Though the flat-picking influence has been phased out with the loss of Betts, he continues the ABB tradition by playing his songs in Dickey Betts & Great Southern. This is just one example of the ABB's motivation to do whatever it takes to keep their music (and brand) alive and strong.
|Gregg Allman :: 03.26 :: The Beacon|
Though this Beacon run was dedicated to Duane Allman, the show was just as much about his brother Gregg - the band's patriarch. It was well known after the cancellation of last year's Beacon run that Gregg was battling Hepatitis C, and to see him come back after treatment so strong was very special. The power and soul behind Gregg's voice was truly "hittin' the note," almost to the point where he looked divinely inspired. Only on this night of the run was Gregg's long hair down, looking like the days when two blond brothers from the South were among the first to play in an integrated band that brought different worlds together in music. More than anything else this night, I appreciated seeing Gregg at his best. He is truly reaching new heights in his singing. We are lucky that he is touring this year to share it with us. He is a living legend, carrying on his band's legacy of tolerance, quality blues music and long honest work.
For more on The Allman Brothers Band check our recent, exclusive feature/interview with Gregg, Butch and more here. And for complete setlists and TONS more pics from the Beacon run, go here.
The Allman Brothers head back on the road next month in Oakland, CA. Complete tour dates, including details on their co-headlining tour with Widespread Panic available here.
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