Review and Photos: The Allman Brothers Band Welcome Guests, Offer Debuts and Classics @ Beacon Theatre
Allman Brothers Band @ Beacon Theatre – March 5
Words: Scott Bernstein
Images: Dino Perrucci
When last year’s Allman Brothers Band March Madness run at the Beacon Theatre ended with founding member Gregg Allman unable to perform at the last show due to health issues, it was hard to avoid thinking that perhaps one of New York City’s greatest musical traditions was coming to an end. However, after watching the 44-year-old band in action last night at this year’s third March Madness show, those fears have been assuaged. The Allman Brothers Band were at the top of their game, offering a fan-friendly and musically exciting performance that mixed the hallmark of the Brothers’ residencies: classics, deep cuts and guest spots.
[All Photos By Dino Perrucci]
Gregg was in fine form throughout the night and seemed to show no ill effects of last year’s health struggles. Guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks finished each other’s musical sentences in a way that only comes from well over a decade of sharing the stage. Butch Trucks may be 65, but he pounded his drums with the strength and stamina of his younger self, while Jaimoe handled the fills with aplomb. Marc Quinones showed off his versatility moving from his percussion rig to the drums for a cover debut and even provided sugary-sweet backing vocals on Blue Sky.
The Allmans took the stage just before 8:30 and launched into a tight, incendiary version of Hot’Lanta that set the bar high for the evening. Brother Gregg wailed away on I Walk On Guilded Splinters, a Dr. John cover that fits perfectly in the band’s repertoire thanks to Allman’s signature blues growls. One Way Out usually appears as an encore, but on this night it was song number three and served to engage even the most casual of Allman fans. Blue Sky has become a rarity since Dickey Betts left the band in 2000. A roar went up from the capacity crowd when the familiar double lead began. There’s so much dark, bluesy soloing at an ABB show, so the more beautiful major-keyed Blue Sky soloing by Haynes and Trucks was a welcome contrast.
Desdemona, an Allman/Haynes chestnut from 2003′s Hittin’ The Note, was a showstopper thanks in part to Trucks’ potent leads and Gregg’s poignant vocals. Towards the end of the first set Beacon run stalwarts The Juke Horns emerged for a pair of completely unexpected cover debuts. Allman spit fire as Derek leaned into every energetic lick during a horn-driven version of the Stevie Wonder/Syreeta/Ray Henderson-penned To Know Him Is To Love Him which was similar to the B.B. King arrangement found on the title track of his 1973 album. Next, the Allmans delivered a gloriously twisted cover of Tears of Rage by The Band. Gregg paid tribute to the late Richard Manuel with his urgent and emotional vocals. Not only are the Allman Brothers debuting covers at a relentless pace this run, but they have each been executed extremely well and show the wide range of the Brothers’ influences.
As if the set hadn’t been filled with enough wonderful music, once the horns left the ABB started up Jessica. It may not be the same without Betts and without the tinklings of former member Chuck Leavell and his signature solo, yet Jessica gave Trucks and Haynes another opportunity to go for the gold. Each guitarist absolutely lit into their solo, though the best part was when they twisted their Mountain Jam-esque licks together just before the triumphant ending.
When the Allmans returned for Set Two, they had a surprise up their sleeves. Spots of Time, a song that seemed unfamiliar to most if not nearly all of the crowd, opened the set. Spots of Time was written by Haynes and Grateful Dead / Furthur bassist Phil Lesh for Lesh’s Phil and Friends project in 2007. It was only performed a few times by Phil and Friends, with the first version coming on September 28th, 2007 in Denver featuring Jackie Greene handling vocals. At that time it stood out as one of the better Phil and Friends originals, but was seemingly forgotten after 2007…until last night. When Haynes sang “Do you remember how young we were or is it just me. Imagining like I always do when we were once wild and free,” you could see Gregg shaking his head in agreement. Statesboro Blues brought the energy right back up, while Rockin’ Horse contained an improvisational workout of immense proportions.
Gregg Allman is the guy whose name is on the band and who many most associate with the group. To hear him struggle vocally in past years was sad which makes his reemergence as a force this year so wonderful. Stormy Monday was a revelation as Allman gave extra emphasis to each syllable and sang from deep down in his soul. The horns returned towards the end of the second set for a three-song string of Who To Believe?, Stand Back and Into The Mystic. Before Haynes started up the Van Morrison cover, he dedicated its performance – and every Allman Brothers performance of the tune – to the late Bill Graham. The group has taken to performing an interesting arrangement of Into The Mystic that leaves room for Haynes and Trucks to work their magic – and last night’s version was no exception. Black Hearted Woman, complete with its 12/8 jam section, gave Allman and the guitarists one last opportunity to weave powerful blues licks together and all three gladly obliged. For the encore, the Allmans brought out guitarist Eric Krasno, who starts his Bowlive IV run with Soulive tomorrow, as well as The Juke Horns for a fun romp through Southbound. Krasno made the most of his brief time in the spotlight, crushing two quick solos before the band left the stage.
It’s now been 24 years since the Allman Brothers Band started taking over the Beacon Theatre each March. While you never know what tomorrow may bring, yesterday’s performance showed that the group still has gas left in the tank. There’s still eight March Madness shows left and if you’re a fan of the Allmans, be sure to catch at least one of ‘em.
Set One: Hot’lanta, I Walk On Guilded Splinters, One Way Out, Blue Sky, Desdemona, To Know You Is To Love You*, Tears Of Rage*, Jessica
Set Two: Spots of Time, Statesboro Blues, Rockin’ Horse, Stormy Monday, Who To Believe*, Stand Back*, Into The Mystic*, Black Hearted Woman
* – w/ The Juke Horns
** – w/ The Juke Horns and Eric Krasno