The Brothers Celebrate 50 Years Of Allman Brothers Band In New York City

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It’s March in New York City, the cold beginning to yield to springtime, and as ever, The Allman Brothers Band fans get the itch. It’s been nearly six years now since the last and longest-running lineup of the storied band played its last notes as an ensemble, but the deepness of the March Beacon Theatre tradition lingers like few others in a city staggeringly full of musical tradition. If ever there was going to be a reunion celebration, there are a few different locations that might make sense, but New York City in March feels top of the list. And, hey: it turned out there would be a reunion, and it would be in the heart of NYC, near the heart of March, at the world’s most famous arena. It wasn’t the Allmans, but The Brothers arrived, reunited, with the ghosts of the past feeling very much present.

When The Brothers concert was announced a few months ago, it was at least as interesting for what it didn’t say as what it did. Heading into the massively hyped one-off show at Madison Square Garden Tuesday — a pretty full house, and appreciably loud as fuck, in active defiance of concerns coronavirus would wet-blanket the whole thing — the big questions were how would they sound, what would they choose to play with so many potential angles to explore, and would just the announced lineup appear, with no guests, as had been rumored? And one I added, the more I plumbed the great memories of Beacon runs past: would they go deep? Not just mix up the catalog, but actually take it for a walk or even an exploration, in line with the best jamming the latter-day Allmans ever did, even if “just enough” would be just enough for this crowd?

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The answers were some variation on “yes” and “sort of” depending on your point of view. The band played faithfully; they roared through songs fast and economically like they had a lot of material to get through, which, of course, they did. The tasty jamming didn’t really kick in until around “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’.” And the wow factor of the latter-era Allmans lineup — what this band could do when it was just plain cooking — didn’t kick in until “Jessica,” closing the first set with the first real improvisational zeniths of the night. But that didn’t mean the workmanlike runs through “Don’t Want You No More > It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” “Trouble No More,” “Revival,” “Stand Back” and many others didn’t stick the landing. They were fine. Warren Haynes played and sang great — he sang almost all of it. The drum corps — Jaimoe, Marc Quinones and Duane Trucks — clicked. Oteil Burbridge was magnificent. Derek Trucks was quiet, until he was not quiet and erupted as only Derek Trucks does. Reese Wynans played rib-sticking organ. Chuck Leavell was a saintly guest; he was up there for about 50 percent of it; he sang “Blue Sky,” though contributed his best, inevitably, during the “Jessica,” his timeless playground for piano exploration.

The first set felt like a panorama — journey through the hits and needed classics without any one choice remarkable high. The second set had the jam goods, from the psychedelic “Mountain Jam” through to the inspired choice of “Desdemona,” one of few nods to the modern era catalog of the band. They played it safe and predictable, except when they didn’t; “Every Hungry Woman,” which turned up late in the second set, filled its role as a serviceable placeholder song, and then also filled its role as a surprisingly potent jam vehicle that’s anything but a serviceable placeholder song. There were such rich emotional highs throughout a judiciously paced two sets and four hours: the galloping jam in “Black Hearted Woman,” the gorgeously pained “Dreams,” the tender “Melissa,” the intensely felt solos from both Derek and Warren during “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” “Midnight Rider” to open the encore, the snatches of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” before the always-welcome “Soulshine,” the fast, raucous “One Way Out.” And, yes, “Whipping Post,” which brought the house down.

It was possible to quibble; it always is. The sound mix was lumpy, favoring one guitarist, then another, but somehow never both together. And didn’t they miss some key songs? (“You Don’t Love Me,” “Done Somebody Wrong,” “Stormy Monday.”) Didn’t they miss some opportunities to invite past members of the band up to jam? (Jack Pearson, hey. Or, you know, Dickey Betts.) Didn’t some songs feel flat and underrehearsed? Sure. Does it matter, in this age of coronavirus and toxic politics, especially when we can have a time like this with these guys? Still? After all these years?

No. It was awesome.

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Full Show Video Playlist (Minus Desdemona, Every Hungry Woman & Liz Reed)

[Captured by HotF’nTuna, Gregory Marcus, nugsnet, Sean Roche, Scott Gibson & Jim Powers]

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Setlist

Set One: Don’t Want You No More > It’s Not My Cross To Bear, Statesboro Blues, Revival, Trouble No More, Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’, Black Hearted Woman, Dreams, Hot ‘Lanta, Come & Go Blues*, Soulshine*, Stand Back*, Jessica*

Set Two: Mountain Jam* > Blue Sky*, Desdemona*, Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More*, Every Hungry Woman, Melissa, In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed, No One To Run With, One Way Out

Encore: Midnight Rider*, Whipping Post*

* – w/ Chuck Leavell