Minnesota State Fair 8-28-07
I've seen the ABB maybe 15 times starting in 75 (was supposed to go to Allmans/Dead show in 72 when I was 12, but Berry died and the ABB cancelled) and started playing guitar in large part due to their sound. I've loved parts of all eras except the synth era in 80 when they played the only show I ever saw that just sucked. I hadn't seen them live since 2004 when they played the same venue and put on a killer show, so I was looking forward to this show.
I heard some of Robert Randolph, about 3 songs which was my fill before it started to get on my nerves. Robert doesn't have the ABB rhythm section and vocals and it starts to show after a while, though parts of it sounded really good. They definitely showed their ABB influence on a Jessica-ish tune.
The ABB opened with Revival and it was "GAME ON" right from the start. It was cloudy, but comfortable and the fingers were flying from note one. I could not believe the intensity they hit in the improvisational sections of this tune. It was as scorching an opening as I've ever heard them play. I don't remember the exact song order, but they played "Come and Go Blues," "Woman Across the River," "Anyday (Oteil singing really well)," "Same Thing," "Jessica," "Midnight Rider," "Melissa/One Way Out (encores)," "Who's Been Talking," "Done Somebody Wrong" and "Black-Hearted Woman". The hits, like MR, Melissa were solid, if a bit uninspired overall, but almost everything else was just on fire.
The interplay between Derek and Warren is at an extraordinary level now. Last time they were here, I thought Derek outplayed Warren, but not last night and I think Derek was much better than 3 years ago. They were just masterful and took the improvisations to peak after peak. Oteil just owns the rhythm section now. Time and again he changed and rechanged the harmonic structure of the music within the improvisations, enabling them to build to ever higher and more unexpected peaks. The band's overall ensemble playing seems tighter than it ever has with the flow between the arrangements and improvisations as close to flawless as you're going to get while jacking the energy as high as they did.
I thought Greg sounded really strong vocally which was necessary to rise above the intensity of the band. He was really commanding in the blues stuff and seemed to respond to the rise in level of the rest of the band. The harmonies were really sweet in Revival, Anyday and several others. Oteil did a great job on Anyday and they just tore that tune up. Greg's organ provided a great textural bed amidst the soaring vocals and guitar on that tune in particular.
They didn't do any really long instrumental which kind of dissappointed me. They did Jessica which was good, but not quite as good relative to their abilities as a lot of the earlier tunes. They did drums within "Same Thing," but it's not the same as in the middle of IMOER or Mountain Jam. I think they were probably conscious of their time limitations at this venue where there's an absolute deadline about 2 hours after they started, but the one thing I missed is one of their extended tunes. They put lots of jamming into the shorter tunes and some of those got extended nicely like "Done Somebody Wrong" and "Black-Hearted Woman."
I enjoyed Oteil playing Butch's drums during the solo. The whole thing seemed to kick up a notch actually when he started playing drums. He really focused the solo and sparked Marc, Jaimoe and Butch on timpani.
Oveall I enjoyed the hell out of it and think this band is the strongest version yet. Duane was amazing and the innovator, but Derek has eaten his stuff alive and continues to push it new places. I miss Dickey's sweetness, but I'm glad they now do his tunes which are among the band's best. I miss hearing Jack Pearson as he's the most versatile and accomplished player the band ever had (check out some of Jack's stuff on YouTube....he's just technically ridiculous and a phenomenal musician). That being said, the guys now playing are producing the most intense freewheeling collective improvisations I've heard from the band ever. How often do you get to say that about a band approaching 40 years old? I'm not convinced that their songwriting and arranging are equal to their peak, but their improvisations, yes. Long live the ABB.
Added: Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Reviewer: Mike Bruns