How Opening Night at the Beacon Theatre Changed Everything

by Rob Johnson

      The first Allman Brothers band show of 2004 broke all the rules and forever changed the parameters of what an Allman Brothers' concert could be. The band introduced several new songs into their repertoire, but that is a yearly Beacon tradition and no real surprise.
       No, this was something more fundamental, a different approach to the music. There was a feeling that anything could happen in any given tune, a wider horizon of jamming possibilities. Even the most jaded fans knew something special was happening, and it started with the very first song…
       Traditionally, an ABB show begins when Bert Holman introduces the band, and ends with "Little Martha" on the PA. On this night, the group quietly started playing "Mountain Jam" with no introduction at all.
       What better way to kick off the run. It soon became clear that they weren't just opening with "Mountain Jam," they were opening with a red-hot version that found the band already in top form, without a trace of rust around the edges. This was going to be GOOD…
       When the band segued into a percussion interlude, the drummers picked up a pulsating bayou beat straight out of New Orleans. Suddenly Derek cranked up a familiar riff and there we were, with "I Walk On Gilded Splinters" the soundtrack. Derek summoned up ghostly slide tones while the band pounded out the voodoo rhythm. This Dr. John classic sounded right at home, and the band was off to an incredible start.
      After this mind-blowing opening sequence, the Brothers took mercy on the crowd with "Trouble No More" and "Midnight Rider," two familiar classics that had the audience singing along to every note.
       Then they stepped out of the box again with a transcendent version of the Howlin' Wolf standard "Forty-four Blues." The first half of the song gradually built intensity from Warren's growling vocals and the grinding, slinky groove established by the rhythm section. As Derek glowed white hot, Warren stepped up with some urgent rhythm guitar licks and the band built to a frenzied peak. Just when the energy threatened to short out the NYC power grid, the group stopped on a dime and drifted back into slow blues territory without missing a beat.
       A cataclysmic version of "Black Hearted Woman" picked up where the "Forty-four Blues" jam left off. The dreamy outro jam of "High Cost of Low Living" is the perfect vehicle for Derek Trucks' unique slide playing, and on this night he took this song to previously unseen realms of musical majesty.
       Next, former Black Crowes' frontman Chris Robinson sat in on "Key to the Highway," a tune many fans know from the Layla album. Robinson acquitted himself well on harp and vocals, injecting passionate rock 'n' roll energy into the blues classic, but the twin roar of Derek and Warren was the main attraction. Having proved with last year's versions of "Layla" that they are worthy successors to the Clapton/Allman duo, they ripped into this song like hungry lions after a long hunt.
       At this point, the band went the extra mile with an adventuresome version of "Instrumental Illness" that rocked and jazzed and jammed like no other. Once again, the group was covering uncharted territory without any preset destination. They took several detours down musical roads less traveled by, and that made all the difference.
       During set break, Warren Haynes exclaimed, "Yeah, that was a fun set!" When "Gilded Splinters" came up, Haynes' already-smiling face lit up like a radioactive Cheshire cat. He obviously felt a mix of pride and excitement at what the band had just pulled off.
       "Wasted Words" began the second set from a position of strength, everyone playing with funky exuberance. Oteil's powerful bass playing anchored the groove while Derek revved up his slide like an overcharged Harley. "Woman Across The River" continued in the funk vein with Warren wailing soulfully, and once again found the band filled with vigor and confidence.
       "Old Before My Time" had just won the Jammy award for Song of the Year two days before this show. Tonight, Gregg gave a heartbreaking rendition that was gripping from start to finish, and the band was able to change gears without losing momentum.
       They wasted no time getting back into full-throttle mode with a scorching version of "Every Hungry Woman." Oteil was the star on this one, his bass kicking pure horsepower and shaking the walls of the Beacon. "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" was another showcase for Derek, who could do no wrong on this night.
       Warren took center stage next for a blistering "Rockin' Horse." Once again the ABB reinvented something that would seem old hat. A new level of telepathy between the band members seemed to make the impossible effortless, as the guitarists wound ever-growing strands of melody and harmony into an unstoppable powerhouse of a jam.
       It sounds like "Afro Blue"…and it is! By debuting this Mongo Santamaria classic, the Allman Brothers finally played a straight-up jazz cover. Butch, Jaimoe, and Marc delivered the polyrhythmic Latin feel that is essential to the heart of the groove, and Derek and Warren's daring guitar explorations showed how familiar they were with the tune from their respective side projects.
       Just when the audience had almost forgotten that the band never finished "Mountain Jam," they roared into the second half of the song, with Derek's electrifying slide runs blazing a trail to Nirvana. By the time the big finish came to a thunderous conclusion, the energy in the room was so strong you could taste it. The "One Way Out" encore was welcome, but almost unnecessary.
       After the show, grizzled Beacon veterans quickly declared this the greatest opening night in history. This wasn't just a good band, or even a great one - it was a band reborn.
       Afterwards, drummer Butch Trucks responded to fans' questions about the fresh musical direction indicated by the first Beacon show. His comments were intriguing, and reinforced the perception that opening night was the first chapter in a brand new book.
       "Expect the Allman Brothers Band to play with more and more dynamic range and to keep doing our best not to do what we are expected to do…You may find something new is happening, and that it's pretty good."

The Allman Brothers Band:
Beacon Theatre Reflections

by Marley Seaman

       When the Allman Brothers Band celebrated its 30th anniversary at the Beacon five years ago, the band and the Big Apple were different. The past five years have been unpredictable and sometimes very difficult. Looking back, the Allmans have changed almost as much as the city that has adopted them. Two prominent band members who were here five years ago are gone, just as the two most recognizable parts of New York's skyscape are gone.
       But life doesn't only change by cataclysms. We're altered little by little, day by day, and sometimes looking back can be shocking. If the features and some of the faces have changed, the essence has not. New York has proven itself as resilient as the Allman Brothers. Both have pushed forward because quitting was unthinkable.
      This year's Beacon run showcased a band that has seen it all and emerged stronger for it. Thirty-five years after that immortal jam in Jacksonville, the spirits of the past were always with us. During "No One to Run With," the light show put Warren alongside Duane Allman in an unbroken circle across the decades, and reunited Warren with Allen Woody. On March 26th in particular - the band's actual anniversary date - the emotions ran high. "Ain't Wastin' Time No More," Gregg's song of mourning and moving on, rang truer than ever about both the band and its current location.
      But bittersweet moments like these only made the wonderful music in front of us that much more important and powerful. More than anything else, this run was a showcase for the ever-growing extended family. When the band marked its 30th anniversary, it gave an excellent performance that, in a way, was a private affair - aside from Dickey's speech acknowledging the occasion, there were no surprises. This anniversary was an all-out bash, featuring old friends and new. The "Southbound" encore alone featured six guests.
      But not all the great moments were crowded. "Don't Think Twice (It's All Right)" was essentially a duet between Susan Tedeschi Trucks' angelic voice and Derek's dove-like guitar. One night when the song was played, Susan entered wearing a white shirt that matched Derek's - and she played one of his guitars. Standing alone under a single spotlight, they looked and sounded like the perfect couple. It was a beautiful, intimate moment. The same night, Kofi Burbridge jammed on the flute to Oteil's bass solo. Afterward, Oteil threw his arms around his older brother and gave him an enthusiastic introduction. More than ever, the music of the Allman Brothers is bringing people together.
      The band rewarded years of fan requests by debuting the jazz standard "Afro Blue," and dipping into the Derek and the Dominos catalogue again with "Key to the Highway" and "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?" After almost three decades, the dramatic harmonies of "Can't Lose What You Never Had" are back. The combo of "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?" and "Franklin's Tower" electrified the Beacon crowd twice.
      "Walk on Gilded Splinters," a cover suggested by Derek, became an instant favorite. Gregg tore into the voodoo proclamation, and Derek provided some appropriately dirty slide tone, his guitar revving like a Harley stuck in a swamp.
       "Every Hungry Woman" has become a constant highlight. As Warren and Derek egged each other on, Oteil swayed back and forth like a sapling in a storm. Watching Oteil is always a joy: there is never a doubt that he is having a wonderful time onstage. You get the sense that he has the same broad smile on his face whether he is playing with the Allmans, the Peacemakers, or by himself in his kitchen. It's hard to imagine anyone enjoying music more than he does.
       His enthusiasm had visibly spread this year. Butch was always pounding on his drums between songs. It was as if he'd just rediscovered the pleasure of making music. The drummers took their share of improvisational risks as well. Butch, Jaimoe, and Marc pounded out new ideas and themes during their extended breaks. Their virtuosity and tireless power in anchoring the band are awesome.
       No matter how much fun the guys were having, it never stopped them from playing the blues with total conviction. Gregg's voice is in better shape than ever, and he seemed to be finding new meaning and truth in the words he sang. Slow, soulful numbers like "Stormy Monday" and "It's Not My Cross to Bear" in particular have never sounded more heartfelt.
       With more than 150 shows under their belts, Warren and Derek continue to grow as a guitar tandem. Their very opposite styles never clash, and they always mesh together to explore new territory, finding fresh grooves in familiar songs and putting their own stamp on newer songs. Together with Oteil, they form the nucleus of today's band.
      Sparks flew whenever the trio was able to stretch out. "The Same Thing" featured some of Oteil's heaviest funk and out-of-the-pocket explorations. Both guitarists cut loose, Warren with a straightforward, shrieking blast, Derek with a calculated burn. The song peaks with the duo racing up the fretboards, ripping out long runs ending in a fierce double-shred climax.
      As exciting as the rock songs are, the band's dynamic range has never been greater. On "Forty-Four Blues" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," the playing becomes whisper quiet while maintaining the same intensity. The Derek-led jam on "High Cost of Low Living" might be the best slide guitar showcase since "Dreams." Derek's guitar sings with pure emotion every time. Warren is the sort of daring leader a veteran band needs. He has a perfect understanding of how to blend this band's weighty tradition with an energy and song selection that keeps it lively. His guitar playing remains as bluesy and muscular as ever, and when he gets up on his tiptoes to sing, the anticipation becomes tangible.
       Always a remarkable talent, Derek has become a master of the guitar. His fingerstyle playing is the equal of his slide work now, and that's a scary proposition. Derek has taken "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" back to its jazz roots, taking spacey turns on the intro and creating solos that burst with a Coltrane-like intensity.
       Some of the band's oldest classics have taken on new energy. The extended versions of "You Don't Love Me" were the most epic since 1971, stretching to include jams on "Whipping Post" and "Black Hearted Woman" as well. At the first show following the anniversary, Bert Holman declared it was "day one" of a new year. The future has rarely looked so bright.

35 Years:
The Road Continues On
The Allman Brothers Band
Beacon Theatre
March 26, 2004

by John Lynskey

"35 Years ago, an American institution was born, and it's still here - the Allman Brothers Band." - Bert Holman
       On March 26, 1969, the members of Allman Brothers Band played together for the first time at Berry Oakley's house in Jacksonville, Florida, marking the birth of rock and roll's greatest live performance group and the dawn of Southern rock. Exactly 35 years later, the ABB took the stage of the venerable Beacon Theatre in New York City, and pulled out all the stops in celebration of the magical music that is uniquely theirs, and theirs alone.
      The night opened with "Can't Lose What You Never Had," a rediscovered gem from Win, Lose or Draw that was last performed in 1976, and the band quickly settled into a funky, mid-tempo groove. Guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks played a tight dual melody line behind Gregg Allman's robust vocals, while bassist Oteil Burbridge laid down a rock-solid foundation that allowed the rhythm section of Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, and Marc Quinones to drive the song home, with Haynes' final stinging solo leading the way. "No One to Run With" featured some smooth slide work from Derek, while the video screen flashed images of Allen Woody, seemingly playing along with Warren during his razor-sharp solo. As the tune barreled to its hammering, Bo Diddley-sounding conclusion, shots of Duane Allman appeared, reminding everyone where this music all began. Gregg then counted it off, and Warren slid into the familiar strains of "Statesboro Blues." The drummers pounded out the classic shuffle pattern, and this one got things cranked up another notch.
      The old gave way to the new when the group got up on their "Rockin' Horse" - Warren belted out the vocals, and the rest of the band was cooking right behind him. Some serious thrashing from Haynes gave way to Derek's edgy slide work, and this was a monstrous performance, and its incredible energy carried over to a romping "Good Clean Fun" from Seven Turns, the band's 1990 reunion album.
      The pace slowed as the gentle strains of "Old before My Time" filled the hall. This autobiographically haunting tune captured Gregg Allman at his crystal-clear best, and was accented by Derek's Middle-Eastern sounding slide. "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," with its slow, nasty groove, came next, and Warren Haynes proved why he is one of the most soulful vocalist around today, and he added a ripping, string-breaking solo to boot. "Schoolgirl" faded out, and Derek's slide led the band into the up-tempo "Leave My Blues at Home," which served as the perfect showcase for the rhythm section. Oteil's cutting bass line and the quick break by the drum triad took this one to the next level.
       Lee Roy Parnell then took the stage, and a three-way slide exchange served as the intro to a cooking "One Way Out." Gregg's barrelhouse piano and desperate vocals set up Lee Roy's wicked slide, and the three-way run and gun pushed the song to its tension and release finish, which concluded a masterful 90-minute first set.
      Butch's pounding tympani and Derek's echoing slide kicked off the second set opener, "Mountain Jam," the song that is probably the one most associated with the original ABB line-up. 35 years later, it has been taken to a different place by this version of the Allman Brothers, but the passion and power remains the same. On this night, the band came out of the drum solo and launched into a blistering version of "I Walk on Gilded Splinters," and Gregg's delivery of lines like "I put gris-gris on your doorstep" would have made Dr. John proud. "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" with filled with emotion and a mournful sort of optimism that was made more poignant by Derek's evocative slide. Gov't Mule keyboardist Danny Louis and Yonrico Scott, drummer for the Derek Trucks Band, sat in on a robust "The Same Thing," and then Susan Tedeschi came out for "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," which she presented with breathtaking purity.
      The gorgeous, climbing guitar harmonies of "High Cost of Low Living," from last year's Hittin' the Note, allowed the band to segue back into the second half of "Mountain Jam," which took flight and soared, simply soared, right out of the building. It was all there - seven men playing as one, locked on and in the zone. From the Fillmore East to the Beacon Theatre, the Allman Brothers Band has come full circle.
      They left the stage and returned with the Deep Banana Blackout horn section, and Warren delighted the crowd with a tender rendition of Otis Redding's "I've Got Dreams to Remember." The horn section stayed, Susan Tedeschi and Danny Louis came back out, drum tech Jamie Van De Bogert positioned himself behind Jaimoe's kit, and the band then took off into "Southbound," which put the finishing touch on what was truly a three hour celebration of ABB history.
      Over the last 35 years, from triumph to tragedy, discord to harmony, the Allman Brothers Band has been there and back again - they have indeed become an American institution, and there are clearly many miles yet to travel on their musical journey.

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