With the Allman Brothers Band 2012 Beacon Run set to kick off on Friday, we wanted to re-publish Chad Berndtson’s thought-provoking preview about what he’d like to see from the legendary band.
Dear Allman Brothers Band,
You’re old, and you’re aging well. I continue to shell out for the Beacon because your surprises and your sense of adventure can still blow past even a seen-it-all concertgoer’s most optimistic hopes — when you feel like it.
Some of the Beacon and United Palace shows I saw between 2001 and 2011 are in my Top 30 all-time nights out. Others, I feel like I overpaid — really overpaid in some cases. So here’s to keeping things interesting and renewing ABB Nation’s faith that your March shows are the one of the most reliable investments in live music — with a few gentle suggestions from a longtime and wholly devoted fan fully prepared to get ripped apart by other Nation members disagreeing with all ten.
If you’re expecting another “Ask Dickey to sit-in” request, that’s not what we’re about here. Assume that we love you already, that we will practice tough love based on how much money you charge for these shows and how good we know you really can be, and that we’re always up for some new flavors of fun.
1. Play another new original — even if it’s a sketch.
There’s been a whole lot of “definitely, maybe” talk about a new Allman Brothers Band album for years now, and we have seen snatches of new material here and there, though apart from Bag End, the vast majority of your first time plays are either new covers or songs familiar to side projects like the Warren Haynes Band or Tedeschi Trucks Band. I find it hard to believe that the current Allmans lineup doesn’t have at least something else kicking around, even in rough sketch form. What better place to workshop it than in front of ravenous Beacon fans that would know immediately — and appreciate immediately — that it’s a new original?
2. Make the guests come to you.
I did five shows during the 2009 Beacon run, and while the 3/28/09 event brought things to a suitable close, it came thisclose to total deflation thanks to the beginning of the second set. It was time for fireworks — second set of the last show of a justifiably legendary run! — and instead came nearly a full hour of plodding jams on Grateful Dead songs. I love Grateful Dead music, love Phil and Bobby, and love any time these two oh-so-influential worlds blend together, but this was the wrong choice at the wrong time. Why not push Phil and Bobby to play Allmans music? Why not an intra-band mega-throwdown on Mountain Jam (which, ironically, was played nearly half hour later, without Bob and Phil)? Seemed like a missed opportunity to these ears.
You integrate guests better than most groups, but you too often slide into a comfortable backing band role for that guest’s songs or toss out a failsafe popular song everyone knows. Makes sense – you don’t want to run the risk of a totally trainwreck sit-in – but push the envelope with the guests, guys. It’s perhaps no surprise that some of the most successful sit-ins from the 2011 run — John Scofield, Randy Brecker, Oz Noy and especially, Bill Evans — came from jazz-centric players comfortable with adapting to various types of ensembles and adding to them. It’d be fun to see even more of that if you’re going to continue to make these shows so guest-heavy.
3. Vary the sit-in songs.
I welcome any opportunity to hear the Asbury Jukes horn section — or any up-to-the-task horn section — with the Brothers at the Beacon. That said, if I see the mics set up on stage for the horns, I can call out five likely horns songs and be right about at least three of them, no? That’s just one example. I understand that Southbound and One Way Out are classic sit-in vehicles because they’re relatively easy to play and hinge on easily digestible, pass-the-baton style solos. But here’s hoping you shake things up a little more and keep the sit-in songs a little less predictable. During the underrated 2010 United Palace run, for example, there were sax sit-ins on both Jessica and Whipping Post on different nights. Try a lot of new things with these hotshot players. That’s why we come to see you at the Beacon: because you’re reliable, but also because these are the shows to see you at your most adventurous.
4. Cover inventively.
It’s a matter of taste and personal preference; one man’s “wow” cover is another’s “why bother.” You’ve proven in recent years that you can definitely pick cool covers, but you sometimes come dangerously close to being a classic rock jukebox. Here’s hoping for a tighter focus on selecting songs that’ll really make sense. It’s hard to pin down exactly why, but I can’t be the only Allmans fan who instinctually likes what the band has accomplished with Blind Willie McTell and Ain’t No Love In the Heart of the City, and also knows right away that I don’t need snooze-paced Allman Brothers versions of Shakedown Street and All Along the Watchtower.
5. Keep the jazz fusion coming.
You’ve always had a jazz element — it’s part of what made you an original way back when — and the current version of the band has the most pronounced jazz proclivity of any lineup. Well hey, fellas, keep scratching that itch. Your recent workouts on selections like Afro Blue, In a Silent Way and Spanish Key have been really interesting — not exactly Midnight Rider-accessible to a casual ABB fan, but for the diehards, in particular, a chance to hear you do something really different, and shake up the pacing and structure of setlists as a result. I say awesome, and also, more, please.