It’s uncomfortable to say so—given all the other variables and the fact that they still bring the heat with such regular intensity—but five years removed from the last, and one of its best, original albums (2003’s Hittin the Note) the Allman Brothers Band is in a holding pattern. A new year and another batch of covers—however excitingly rendered–just isn’t going to hold the critics back any longer. We need some new tunes, boys—some new fire in the blues-rockin’ belly.
Granted, Wednesday night’s show at Jones Beach was an entirely unfair review specimen—it was the second gig the Brothers have played in 2008, the second since Gregg went on the DL to recover from Hepatitis C treatments, and, given the of Warren, Derek and Oteil (and presumably the drummers, too), the second with little rehearsal or time to regroup. It’s a hard band to assess, friends—and any criticism, given how much works, and how often, and for how long, feels untoward—but the dominant feeling, post-show, was disappointment. The Jones set had to rely on moments of isolated intensity instead of ending up a front-to-back corker.
The benefit of the doubt, glass-half-full guy in me is saying it’s because they’ve set their own bar so very high since the 2001 return of Warren and the kick-off of the band’s revival, and and I’m enough of an Allmans fanatic—what more skeptical friends would call that apologist—that they’d get at least 10 mulligans before I’d stop giving them my hard-earned cabbage. But warhorses like "Les Brers," "Leave My Blues at Home" and "Jessica" slogged too much, fueled only by bursts of creativity and fiery soloing. There was withdrawal at both set bookends, too: "You Don’t Love Me" barely got off the tarmac and featured canned solos from both guitarists, and a "One Way Out" encore cooked but felt tacked-on, as if the group realized it had run out of time to play something more involving (a strong possibility, given they’d played "One Way Out" as the encore the previous night, too). The atmosphere, overall, was tired, and the crowd felt it, even as "Gilded Splinters" at least lit the pilot light and there were a number of other selections (see below) that started to blow the place up.
Again, it’s really early in the tour, and I’ll agree to be grateful they’re still doing what they do, these wily musicians. But it also says something that the man playing with the most visible gusto was an 83-year-old guest drumming legend on stage for less than 20 minutes. And that’s to take nothing away from the great Roy Haynes, either—he owns on most any stage he graces. His appearance has become yet another of the ABB’s fabled New York traditions, and his arrival—creeping up behind Jaimoe’s kit to play a bass/drums segment with Oteil and then hauling the whole ensemble, single-handedly, into "Afro Blue"—was the jolt the band had been trying to locate for more than an hour. While the night was getting late and there were too many musicians on stage to make a real go of groupthink—Ratdog’s Kenny Brooks and Jeff Chimenti were aboard by then, along with the rest of the band—the potential for a real bust-out restored a lot of the show’s energy in the late hour.
So, before we get to Bobby and Ratdog, the highlights reel: a slow-cooking "Sky Is Crying" that brought the howl out of Warren’s lungs and the business from Derek’s fingertips; a filthy "Schoolgirl" that with each soloist—Warren first, then Ratdog’s Mark Karan, and finally Derek—got a little nastier; a fat, jammed-out epilogue to "No One to Run With"; an as-always tender "Melissa" that afforded Warren more improv than he usually takes with the tune; that tasty, if crowded "Afro Blue," and—you know what—the comforting sight of seeing Gregg looking healthy, smiling and thanking a "great bunch." He’s still here.
Allman Brothers Band – Setlist
You Don’t Love Me, Walk On Gilded Splinters, Les Brers in A Minor, The Sky Is Crying, Leave My Blues at Home, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl*, No One to Run With, Melissa, The Same thing > drums** > Afro Blue**#, Jessica
E: One Way Out
* with Mark Karan
** with Roy Haynes
# with Kenny Brooks and Jeff Chimenti
On this night, Ratdog’s set contained the hottest single stretch of music between the two. Its overall impact was debatable—a slow, meandering beginning and a flabby "Franklin’s" to close didn’t help the cause—but Weir and Karan were both in good form, and the whole band jelled right around a groovy "Corrina," then ramping up the emotion with the sweetness of "Peggy-O" and the snarl of "Masters of War" back to back. Warren added a lot to the "Speedway > Half-Step" combo, coloring the former tune with slide flourishes and engaging Karan in a wide-ranging jam to close out the latter. The "Stuff" segment had a backbone—a lot more forward-moving than the gooey "Stuffs" I’ve seen from the ‘dog before—and "Heaven’s Door" was a triumph: unhurried, passionate and emotional. Some fine Ratdog for a kind evening by the water.
Jam > Help On the Way > Slipknot! > It’s All Over Now, She Says > Liberty, Corrina , [email protected], Masters of [email protected], New Speedway Boogie* > Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo* > Stuff > Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower
* with Warren Haynes