ABB - Beacon, NYC, 3/14/2003
There was a tease of "Les Brers" in the tuning to open the show before the band began dancing around the chords to "You Don't Love Me", Warren and Derek trading short, succinct lines. Then bam-- they turned it over and the boys were full on into the song. "You Don't Love Me" is the kind of opener that bodes well for the evening. Warren positively smoked on the song, serving notice early about what kind of a night it was going to be.
"Standback" is next up, with Otiel's syncopated bass lines "rubberizing" the song.; Like "Wasted Words" the night before, it sounded remarkably fresh. Then a sweet "Come and Go Blues"; Warren tossed off tasty lines during the break, and tonight the first outbreak of spontaneous applause was for him.
"44 Blues" is up next. Now, to understand the difference in the musical direction of the Allmans today versus in the Dickey years, consider that ordinarily this would be the "Blue Sky" slot. As Gregg has said, the country is gone, the band is back in deep blues, and R'n'B, territory for keeps. Otiel pushes Warren with a nice counterpoint on bass; Warren grinds out a gritty blues solo drenched in mud, then Derek stings up a slow, slow blues solo. Soon this builds into a full on band cascading crescendo, then back ever so easy into the melody of the song, led by Otiel. On the outro Derek caps things as he plays a soft, elegant fade with perfect and gentle touch.
Gregg's strong vocal work continues on "Maydell", which is a tight ensemble number without much jamming. Then "Hot 'Lanta", which continues to showcase the tightness of the band as they move through the nuances of the instrumental.
There is an all too brief moment during the upbeat "Soulshine" where, towards the end, Warren and Derek face each other and play together; too soon it is over.
Finally the band pulls out "Rocking Horse." It takes a while to jell; Derek begins with a tentative solo, then Warren goads him with short, quick answer lines. Soon they are blowing the roof off the place, three instrumental voices (Derek on slide, Warren chording as if playing lead, and thunderous Otiel). Warren keeps things hot with his solo. Back into the final verse of the song, then a graceful segue touchdown into "Gambler's Roll." This two song stretch, and especially the segue, is an early highlight in a solid first set. Derek plays a solo during the break, and finishes leaving a big, fat glassy tone filling the room. Warren begins playing over that hanging, ringing tone and builds to a bluesy high that again generates applause.
"Leave My Blues at Home" is a rock solid set closer; Gregg continues to be in strong, fine voice, his stage presence more commanding than it has been in years. The guitarists do some nice harmony riffage.
Surprisingly, set two does not open with an acoustic section. The band kicks right into "Firing Line", which is a fine way to begin a set (it is the first track on the new album). The song is accented by tasty slide and blues picking from Warren. Next up is "Done Somebody Wrong", which despite Warren's continued fine work remains a vehicle for Derek. Gregg is literally snarling out the vocals at this point.
Next Warren steps up and strangles some deep blues from the neck of his guitar; I wanted to get that poor ax some first aid. When he is done Derek glides over his fret board, tossing and peeling off glassy runs, leaving a fat note hanging again in the air; then more Warren, then Derek. Then the full band kicks in and its "Hoochie Coochie Man." The song is a monster, and features outstanding drumming. It fills the hall and shakes the foundation.
Next up is "No One Left to Run With", which thrills the crowd because many of them apparently think it is going to be "Not Fade Away." The boys have some fun with the song's Bo Diddley beat. Then a quick, upbeat "Don't Keep Me Wonderin'."
Next, Warren introduces a song by Howlin' Wolf and leads the band into "Who's Been Talkin'". Warren is wailing, ringing in a fashion almost reminiscent of Carlos Santana. It is a blues song with a deliberate, jaunty, funky riff; after the verses Derek takes off on a solo, with Marc Quinones laying down a decidedly Latin feel behind him. The whole jammed out middle section has that Latin feel (hence the Warren reference to Carlos above). Warren steps up and just absolutely shreds, shines. The song is exquisite and a distinct highlight.
"Statesboro Blues" is the first repeat from opening night; the entire rhythm section (Otiel and the three drummers) kick butt, pushing the song into hyperdrive. Then "Instrumental Illness."
At first I was disappointed that they were using the same song two nights in a row as the extended set closer. But they threw me a curve. The band moves deliberately through each distinct choreographed section; then right before the place where I thought there would be a drum solo, the whole band suddenly locks in, the ensemble playing is powerful. It is clear that they are still finding things in this piece, and enjoying the search. The section is smoldering... and then, no drum solo. Another couple of sections, and the song is brought to a mighty close-- maybe 11 minutes, the full majesty of the piece apparent without the drums/bass interlude.
As the band came out for the encore, Butch Trucks walked to the front of the stage. "In case you don't know who I am", he said, gesturing over to his drum kit, "I've been sitting over there the past 34 years." (I may have the quote wrong, but it was a good line.) Then he talked about how the band was going to do something special that they'd never done, and they hoped we'd like it. He dedicated it to Duane Allman, but mostly to mentor and father Tom Dowd. I was wondering why not Berry Oakley, when it occurred to me that Dowd and Duane were both on the Layla album, and I turned to the guy next to me and said, "They're going to play something from Layla." Even going that far, I didn't dream they'd pull out the song itself. But in a flash they are into the most familiar riff in rock, and Warren is singing his heart out. It is joyous and unbelievable.
When the piano coda begins, Gregg is just RIGHT there, playing it beautifully. Derek plays a sweeping slide solo over it, sweet bull's-eye notes, fluid lines (I mean, talk about passing the torch). He never actually quoted the original-- yet he nailed its essence perfectly. It was a moment for the ages.
Next, Butch and Derek were alone on the stage for the beginning of "Mountain Jam," and I have to tell you, as great as this song is, if it ever seemed anti-climactic, this was the night. But it was a solid version; Warren injected a "Norwegian Wood" tease during the early mid-section.
The drums don't really get going, until Otiel (unsung hero in this band) steps out to join them; then the foursome kicks it up three notches. The drums end, and Otiel treats us to "America the Beautiful." Then the scat, which can be something of a momentum-killer; like an Al Jarreau guest spot at a Vanilla Fudge concert. But soon the scat is done, and his bass is driving back into the song. Warren vamps a while, Derek joins him with some lazy lines; they are in no rush to get back to the main riff. Everyone plays together, more tight ensemble playing, again avoiding the closing riff until Butch heralds it with the tom tom beat. Derek drives us home, Warren joining in, and the show is done.
Friday was far more of the deep blues than Thursday night. After only two shows, several patterns are emerging. One, the sound is great. Two, there appears to be no song in their repertoire-- or not in their repertoire-- that is off limits (as long as it isn't a country song). Third, The band is tight and together. And fourth, sure, we expect both guitarists to shine, but Gregg has emerged again as a force to be reckoned with, both vocally and as a lead instrumentalist. These shows are going to keep getting better. I think this band has found itself. I hope you get a chance to find them too.
Now I'm off until next Saturday. Unless... unless....
Added: Saturday, March 15, 2003
Reviewer: Josh Chasin