When is an Allman Brothers performance not an Allman Brothers performance? When the last remaining original Allman Brother calls in sick with bronchitis putting the bands farewell “March Madness” residency in jeopardy and for one night only changing the Allman Brothers to the Haynes-Trucks Band.
Rumor has it that the last Allman standing, keyboard and lead vocalist Gregg, was seen looking very ill Wednesday night being lead to the tour bus an hour after the concert, putting the entire run in jeopardy.
This is the end for the Allman Brothers, both guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks announced their departure by the end of 2014 and rather than replace them, Gregg announced he was pulling the plug on the greatest Southern boogie band of them all after a45 year run interrupted by death, doom, drugs and dust ups (and Cher), as well as a seven year break up in the middle. From the late greatest white electric blues guitarist Duane Allman’s death at the age of 24 through the pastoral elegance of good ol’ boy racist junkie Mr. Blue Sky’s Dickey Betts tenure to the blues raga and twinning current incarnation; Gregg, even if not up to it, was the face of the band.
But it is a sign of the times, and a sign of his age, that while disappointment at Gregg’s absence was undeniable, it only lead the band to greater heights on this tremendous 195 minute performance NOT including a half hour intermission. After you mourned for the passing of “Melissa” , you could rely on this heavy on the blues mix of Tedeshi-Trucks band meets Gov’t Mule meets Allman’s own Betts influenced country blues. Indeed, Betts not Gregg seemed to haunt the changing and strange setlist. “Mountain”, the bands extended cover of the Donovon song, was performed early in the evening. The song is a late night Mountain/Blue Sky/Mountain staple. For one night only, the band hadn’t even dusted off the rust before they launched into one of their biggest moments, and despite it being reprised and ending the evening nearly four hours later, it creaked and staggered through ten minutes of meh. “Blue Sky”, one of the greatest songs the Band has ever produced, was played near the top of the second set and despite a sprawl of a fourteen minute performance of the classic didn’t quite click.
If those were the question marks, everything was forgiven with a straight on, full force boogie down “Franklin’s Tower”. At first I wondered why I couldn’t see the stage and then it dawned on me, I couldn’t see the stage because everybody in the audience was dancing. This was maybe the third song Bill Evans had added his estimable sax to but the reason it moved the audience for over 20 minutes of dance was because, ta-dah, the band grabbed the Dead classic, co-written by drummer Bill Kreutzmann by its wild groove (it is a variant on a Dave Mason song) and rode it all the way to an Evans solo that stopped the show dead before continuing to the end. Easily the one transcendent no doubt worth the price of admission alone moment of the evening.
But the real question here was, who was gonna replace Gregg on vocals (nobody seemed too worried about the keyboards). Mostly it was Warren, with Mrs Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi much less annoying than when she is performing as the Tedeschi Trucks band, took lead on a couple of songs and sung back up on a couple of others, and bassist Oteil Burbridge sang lead on a couple of others. Gregg’s son Devon Allman played lead guitar on “One Way Out”. All three percussionists (Butch Trucks, “Jaimoe” Johanson and Marc Quiñones) joined together for a ten minute plus drum solo which saw the rest of band leave the stage during the last song before the encore “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” and without Gregg they managed to play many of their perennials and a few curve balls and be the Allmans and also something else.
But you don’t wanna read about that, you wanna read about Warren and Derek because, well, because that is the story and after 15 years of the two guitarist at the heart of the Allman Brothers you know the story. Derek is a steely fingered blues notes plucker who lives in the saddle and Warren is a blues riff machine who can hold the rhythm and skewer the licks all night long. The two play much better together than apart and tonight Warren hands the first set to Derek and Derek hands it back for the second set. They don’t just play together, they play as one, and without Gregg there, they watch over each other, defer to each other, anchor themselves, switch roles and both will step back and let any other member of the band take over when necessary.
And more than ever, what the Allman Brothers get that say first runner up jam band Phish don’t get very often is a collective groove. With three drummers, this is beyond dropping anchor, and, some 150 minutes into the set, with five guitarist not dueling but dancing, the Brothers are all out night boogie band of brothers (and sister!).
So can you have the Allman Brothers without Gregg? I think what Friday night proved is that, despite the Allman Brothers soon to disband you maybe can. Ten years from now Derek will be 44 years old and Warren will be 61, Devon will be 51 years of age. If Gregg is retired (or worse), this will be the sort of Allmans set we can expect and it will be very good. I would add Devon full time, it’d would give them a constant three guitar attack, maybe even Susan, and I would add Bill Evans who was really terrific Friday night. And I would continue and who knows, 30 and 70 years from now there might still be blue skies.
I am bumming I didn’t get to see Gregg one last time, but I think any of us who were there got a peakin at the Beacon into the future.
Mountain Jam I
Worried Down With The Blues
Every Hungry Woman
Seven Turns – w/ Susan Tedeschi
Stand Back – w/ Susan Tedeschi
Little School Girl – w/ Bill Evans
One Way Out – w/ Devon Allman
Who’s Been Talkin – w/ Bill Evans
Franklin’s Tower – w/ Bill Evans > Lovelight – w/ Susan Tedeschi > Franklin’s Tower
Sky is Crying – w/ Susan Tedeschi
Hoochie Coochie Man
Elizabeth Reed – w/ Bill Evans
Mountain Jam II – w/ Bill Evans
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