Sunday, March 12, 2006

Allman Brothers- truth in advertising be damned

I'm not sure why I'm giving this virtual space to these ol' classic rockers when I could/should be writing about recent records I love by the M's or Duke Spirit but...

Egged on by Creative Loafing editor and Southern rock freak Kandia Crazy Horse, I was curious to find out if the so-called Allman Brothers Band really did put on a great show after these years and lost band members.

Greg and friends do a famous annual run of shows at New York's Beacon Theatre, recently documented in both a live double album and a DVD set. Don't worry if you didn't know that- their efficient marketing machine will gladly remind you of that more than once.

I did like their early 70's records but with Duane and Berry long gone and Greg a long-suffering druggy, I didn't know what the point would be. With the Dead living on through archive releases and assorted reunions, maybe these other jam-band godfathers were one of the last place for heads to congregate and relive the old days. I'd given up mary jane years ago myself so again, I didn't know what the point would be to even showing my respects. I guess I thought that I should just go see 'em, cross it off my list and not worry or bother about it again.

So I went this time, getting a cheap nosebleed seat in the balcony. Even before they came out, I had a good contact high from the people around me and noticed that even at 40, I was easily one of the youngest people there. It also looked like some fans weren't from Gotham and had traveled from afar to see the band. After usually crowding into small dank clubs stinking of stale beer, shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of college students, this was at least an interesting sociological throw-back experience for me.

Along with Greg, the drummers are the only original members still there as guitarist Dickey Betts was canned (or as Kandia put it, "Dickey fired Dickey"). Butch Trucks is still pretty damn agile but Jaimoe was low-key to say the least, sometimes not playing during songs or wandering off during others. Maybe that's why they hired an extra percussionist- to take up the slack.

Guitar-wise, Warren Haynes is back after doing Govt Mule on the side and the other slot is filled in by another Trucks named Derek (Butch's nephew). Surprisingly, they're a great team. Maybe not Duane and Dickey in their prime but they did shred on their own solos and occasional great trade-offs between themselves. And when Susan Tedeschi guested for a few songs, not only did her voice lift up the proceedings but when she played guitar, she could stand toe-to-toe with Haynes and Trucks. Personally, I didn't think Greg himself sounded any better or worse than when I've heard him on record but the gutiarists alone make the show worth seeing.

Judging by 2003's One Way Out (recorded at their Beacon stand of that year), it didn't sound like their set changed much in the last few years but why screw with a great formula? "Statesboro Blues" and "Hoochie Coochie Man" will always be great blues songs and they've played them long enough to know how to make the most of them. Though I was surprised not to hear "Midnight Rider" and actually glad not to hear "Ramblin' Man" (overplayed), "Dreams" and "Wasted Words" sounded in fine form and by the end, when you hear "Whipping Post," you know that you've gotten the whole experience you've hoped for.

OK, the psychedelic lights and projections were un-necessary throw-backs and the constant hawking of Brothers merchandise wasn't endearing- nice to know that they have multiple double live albums for sale. But the T-shirts were kind of snazzy and if I didn't think it would make me look like a Dead-head wanna-be, I actually thought of buying one.

And OK, so technically, they're not the Allman Brothers anymore (unless you wanna argue that Duane's there in spirit, which isn't that far-fetched) and they haven't made any studio albums you'd wanna buy for a couple of decades now. But I got to say that as a live band, they're still amazing. I honestly wouldn't have believed it myself if I hadn't seen it for myself but I'm a believer now. I would definitely see 'em again when they come back around here. I might even buy a T-shirt at their next show I go to...


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