The Allman Brothers Band: Beacon Residency 2009; You Can Go Home Again
By: David Schultz
If Sergio Leone were to make The Good, The Bad & The Ugly in modern times, Eli Wallach would tell Clint Eastwood that there are two types of people in this world: those who know that The Allman Brothers Band residency is a sacred event and those who are too ignorant to know better. After a year hiatus the 2008 run of shows were postponed and ultimately canceled when Gregg Allmans treatment for Hepatitis C left him physically unable to perform the venerable Allman Brothers Band returned refreshed and reinvigorated to the newly renovated Beacon Theater.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the formation of the band as well as the 20th anniversary of their first Beacon residency, this years set of fifteen shows over a three week span was dedicated to the memory of founding member Duane Allman. As with most years, the Allmans' invasion of the Beacon sounded a testosterone laden siren call. Women who were looking for slightly overweight, highly intoxicated men in their forties or fifties with fading hairlines, vintage tie-dyes and a love of proper classic rock could have rummaged the Beacons aisles like a sale at Filenes Basement. While the residency attracted its fair share of female guests, the shows were likely the only ones in recent memory where the women could waltz by a bathroom line of nearly a hundred guys and walk right into a nearly vacant ladies room.
Throughout the three week run, the Allmans mixed in a healthy smattering of blues based standards, their own and others, to amaze the discerning listener but mixed enough of their better known songs to satisfy the less-studied Allman Brothers fan. Right from the outset it became clear that Gregg Allman had returned to the stage in fine form, his vocals stronger and more sustained than in past years and his playing more focused and inspired. Overshadowing the elder Allman as well as the rest of the band, Derek Trucks presence on stage no longer needs to be qualified by facts like miraculous guitar prodigy or Butchs nephew. Trucks has matured and developed into a force of nature and in trading licks at the Beacon with the likes of Eric Clapton, Trey Anastasio and Buddy Guy, edged his way onto the mantle of this generations preeminent guitarists. At every show, Trucks and Warren Haynes played off each other so compatibly that it hardly mattered what song they were playing, they crafted something new and entertaining at every turn. In fact, the only new song offered over the three weeks was an Trucks/Haynes instrumental that may or not be entitled Orpheo. On opening night, the two slipped snippets of Hendrixs Purple Haze and Third Stone From The Sun into their solos and the whole band took to riffing on The Grateful Deads The Other One with extraordinary frequency.
Duane Allmans Little Martha, the only Allmans song solely authored by the Skydog, served as another of the residencys recurrent themes. Haynes and Trucks opened the entire run with an acoustic rendition of the tune and the guitarists and bassist Oteil Burbridge would continually weave Allmans lilting melody into most nights set list. In addition to Trucks emergence, Burbridge finding his true comfort zone within the band was another of the residencys finer developments. Since joining the band in the late 90s as Allen Woodys replacement, Burbridge has brought a jazzy influence into the Allmans camp. Playing with ebullience, Burbridge wound some intricate bass lines around a rotating cast of All Star guitarists. His bass and drums segments still prove less than enthralling but when he doesnt have to front the band, Burbridge works wonders.
The powerful delivery of the trifecta of drummers, original members Jaimoe and Butch Trucks and percussionist Marc Quinones, remains potent. Trucks does the majority of the heavy lifting, playing with the energy of someone half his age while Quinones, with his wide variety of percussion, adds the little flourishes and flutters that arent always noticeable yet their absence would be devastating. Livelier than in years past, Jaimoe still works at a steadier, more deliberate pace from the other two, providing old school, R&B drum fills to complement the heavy onslaught.
This year, those who didnt get into the shows werent frozen out of the excitement. Spearheaded by Butch Trucks, Moogis, a cutting edge streaming video service centered on bringing the live concert experience to peoples laptops, brought all fifteen shows to the Web on an on-demand basis. Using the ABBs fan forum as a sampling group, the Moogis Webcasts were a huge success with the Peachheads praising the service in between such pithy and insightful comments like Derek nailed that, Warren is on tonight and Kid Rock sucks.
By dedicating the residency to the memory of Duane Allman, the Allmans inspired extra scrutiny and serious prognostication as to the potential guests. In light of the focus on the Skydog, appearances by Boz Scaggs, Bonnie Bramlett, John Hammond and Jerry Jemmott and Bernard Purdie of the King Curtis Band werent entirely unexpected with Claptons sit-in for two shows mid-run marking the Friends-Of-Duane high point. Bearing less of a relationship to the famed founding member, but fun nonetheless, Kid Rock, Robert Randolph, Bruce Willis and Sheryl Crow all graced the Beacon stage at varying points in time.
On opening night, Taj Mahal brought his girth and bluesy growl for runs through Leavin Trunk and 44 Blues and with images of the blues greats of yesteryear being shown behind them, as has become the custom for the song, Mahal fronted a bar-brawling version of Statesboro Blues. The first nights second set belonged to beloved drummer Levon Helm, who travelled down from Woodstock with Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams and Brian Mitchell. Kicking off the set with Opheila, I Shall Be Released and The Weight, Helm and his Midnight Ramble regulars recreated the communal feel of his upstate get togethers.
Later on during the first week, Buddy Guy brought his age-defying energy to the stage for The Sky Is Crying and You Dont Love Me. However, for Southbound, Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell, fresh off Phishs reunion shows in Hampton, Virginia, brought the house down simply by walking on the stage. For the second set, Anastasio and McConnell returned for lengthy renditions of I Know You Rider and In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed with the Allmans continuing in their absence with elongated versions of Dreams and Jessica.
With such a focus on the each nights guests, the March 26th show, which marked the actual 40th anniversary of the bands formation, stood out for their absence. As the fans that had been diligently monitoring each nights shows, either through set lists or their online Moogis broadcasts, made clear, no other guest but estranged founding guitarist Dickey Betts would suffice. Instead of subjecting any guest to a round of were they worthy? the ABB paid tribute to Duane Allman by playing the two studio albums released during his lifetime: offering The Allman Brothers Band as Set 1 and Idlewild South as Set 2. In going back to the early days, Allman sang more in one night than on multiple nights combined, his voice strong and fresh yet with an aged and wizened quality that only served to enhance the bombast of Whipping Post and the subtleties of Trouble No More and Leave My Blues At Home.
Despite visits from Paul Riddle of the Marshall Tucker Band and The [Grateful] Deads Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, the shows from the last weekend reportedly lost some of the steam that had made the prior thirteen nights an enriching experience. Nodding to the next generation of Allmans, Greggs son Devon joined in for Midnight Rider and Berry Oakley, Jr. lent his bass for One Way Out and Southbound. Over the course of 15 shows in a three week span, the Allman Brothers Band engaged in a little rock and roll revivalism that went beyond reawakening interest in the Southern rock stalwarts back catalog. By showcasing the blues as a vital and living entity, the Allmans recharged and enlivened interest in the whole genre. If you managed to attend more than one show and not feel the need to acquire some old blues recordings, you werent paying close enough attention.