How does one upstage the legendary Gregg Allman? Have his son’s band open for him and totally kick ass. With enough energy and bravado to spark a full-on fire, Devon Allman and his trio Honeytribe was the band to beat on a special night at the New Orleans House Of Blues. This is not to say that Gregg and his own incredible band were not up to par by any means. For the fans in attendance, they were the lucky ones who got a double dose of some of the most talented musicians rock & roll has to offer. And a few nights later, Gregg and his guys upped their game another notch and blew Biloxi completely away in a hailstorm of blues juggernauts that only an Allman knows how to do. For music lovers, this was the week you got lucky.
Prior to the Wednesday night show, Honeytribe bassist George Potsos told me to get ready because his band were going to smoke New Orleans yet again. And the man wasn’t kidding. Playing to a packed house of ABB fans, they won over music lovers of all ages with Devon’s passionately soulful blues guitar solos, George’s humping bass lines and Gabriel Strange’s supercharged drumming. There was no way anyone was going to outplay and outrock them; not on this night.
Starting off with an old blues bang with “Checking On My Baby” and a frenetically electric “Perfect World” from their first Album TORCH, Devon Allman’s Honeytribe proved they are a solid well-buffed rock & roll band of many flavors. They can go from the subtle super sexy slinkiness of the instrumental “Insh’Allah” from their current record Space Age Blues to an all-out killer cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” and never once have it seem awkward. Honoring his roots, Devon put the Allman touch on “Midnight Rider” that both emulated and enhanced the classic ABB tune, while spiraling into an out of this world solo that literally took your breath away.
Closing their unusually short set with “Heaven Has No Mercy”, The Tribe brought out local favorite Tab Benoit. “Tab is a badass, the total package, man,” George said of the performer. “He should be bigger than he is, a superstar for sure … You can’t deny the fact that he plays guitar really well and everybody can get into it when he plays.” Having these four men on a stage together, just boiling over with a frenetic energy, they lit up the night; even with Devon popping a string.
Honeytribe was going to be one hell of an act to follow. But Gregg came out with his wonderful ensemble of musicians and kept the vibe moving in the right direction. Appearing healthy and happy, Gregg performed with a comfortable ease and his pleasure at having special guests like harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, son Devon, and the great Warren Haynes all come out to play on various songs was quite apparent.
But there were a few invisible gremlins sneaking around here and there. “We were having a lot of issues with the sound system there,” guitarist Scott Sharrard told me a few nights later. “Also, set-list wise, we kept waiting for Warren to appear and I guess he was running late doing something so we had to make some last minute changes to the set list … It slowed us down a little bit.” But it didn’t stop them.
Gregg actually joked several times during the set delays. “The only thing about having people sit in is they have to set up their rig,” he laughed at one point while the crew was setting up for Warren. “Only for a Brother would I do this.”
And what a ride Mr. Haynes took us on. The man just does no wrong and there is probably not a better musician out there with his poise and laid-back confidence. Playing his remarkable solos on “Dreams” and “Just Another Rider”, the new song he co-wrote with Gregg on the latter’s Low Country Blues solo album, as well as sharing a six-string duet with Sharrard, Warren was a five-star highlight.
A few nights later in Biloxi, the band was coming off an elated high from their performance at Jazz Fest the day before. “It was amazing,” Sharrard told me with an obvious excitement. “I mean, Jazz Fest in New Orleans in general has just GOT it right now … It was really an incredible show. The audience was great, just packed.”
Obviously, the momentum from New Orleans carried over tenfold to the Biloxi stage. Guitarist Sharrard, bassist Jerry Jemmott, keyboardist Bruce Katz, percussionist Floyd Miles, drummer Steve Potts, and the extraordinary sax man Jay Collins were all hittin’ the note, as Berry Oakley once famously said about the Brothers reaching that perfect purity of musical sound together. You could just feel it in the air, coming off the hot stage with the sweet guitar sounds and amazing vocals of Gregg Allman.
Both nights featured very similar setlists. Floyd Miles still has his caterwaul, singing “Back To Daytona” and “You Must Be Crazy”. Fan favorites like “I’m No Angel”, “Dreams”, “Whipping Post” and “Sweet Melissa” were greeted, as always, with a rapturous round of applause. But it was the songs from Low Country Blues hat were really the highlights. It’s like Gregg has been preparing for these songs all his life, his voice weaving ever so seductively into each note of the old blues numbers that producer T-Bone Burnett found perfect for him. The old Sleepy John Estes “Floating Bridge”, “Can’t Be Satisfied”, “Tears Tears Tears”, and at the HOB show, “Ridin’ Thumb”, were pure and simple poetry to the ears.
One moment that struck me as strange was when Gregg left the stage to let his band jam and spotlight their individual talents, a number of people got up to go on bathroom breaks or beer runs. What an amazing section of true musicianship to miss.
I really would have liked to have heard Gregg and the guys pull out a few more tunes from the new CD, like “Blind Man”, “Rolling Stone” and “My Love Is Your Love”. How amazing they would sound with this band pouring the soul of life into them on the live stage.
Overall, Gregg Allman continued to do what Gregg Allman does best: live and breathe the southern blues. Following in the footsteps of BB King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, he will keep performing well into his elder years. It is what he knows, it is what he does, it is what he loves. Devon Allman’s Honeytribe Setlist
: Checking On My Baby, Perfect World, Midnight Rider, When I Call Home, Insh’Allah, Purple Rain, Heaven Has No Mercy.Gregg Allman (New Orleans)
: Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’, I’m No Angel, Just Like A Woman, Can’t Be Satisfied, Ridin’ Thumb, You Must Be Crazy, Born Under A Bad Sign, These Days, Tears Tears Tears, Midnight Rider, Just Before The Bullets Fly, Back To Daytona, Just Another Rider, Dreams, Sweet Melissa, Whipping Post. ENCORE: Floating Bridge, Sweet Feeling, Statesboro Blues.Gregg Allman (Biloxi): Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’, I’m No Angel, Please Call Home, Just Another Rider, Can’t Be Satisfied, You Must Be Crazy, These Days, Dreams, Just Before The Bullets Fly, Sweet Melissa, Back To Daytona, Whipping Post. ENCORE: Floating Bridge, Sweet Feeling, Statesboro Blues.