At the Paramount Theatre in Rutland Vermont, the third stop of an abbreviated early fall tour, Les Brers suggested in no uncertain terms they are well on the way towards proving their mettle as a band. They are not merely a tribute group, but rather a bonafide extension of the legacy of The Allman Brothers Band
As the original drummers of the ABB, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe, are not only maintaining their own forty-year plus bond within this ensemble, they’re also continuing their two-decades plus union with rhythm partners Oteil Burbridge on bass and Marc Quinones on percussion. In the meantime, those four welcome back to the fold guitarist Jack Pearson, Allman Brothers guitarist in the late nineties, even as they render more permanent their musical relationship with frequent collaborator Bruce Katz on keyboards. At the same time, they’ve all begun fostering abiding connections with seasoned guitarist/harpist Pat Bergeson even as they introduce into the mix vocalist Lamar Williams Jr., the son of the late Brothers bassist circa 1973’s Brothers and Sisters.
The end result of this ambition accomplishes more than just satisfying the appetite of Allman Brothers fans hungry for the music of their heroes, an appetite expanded with namesake Gregg Allman off the road in late summer and autumn due to illness. A less-than-capacity crowd in the handsome venue was fired up out of proportion to its size all Saturday night, further inspiring a septet that showed itself to be cognizant of their strengths and how to maximize them. Les Brers were also willing to take some chances in this city within the Green Mountains, their courage underscored by their collective professional savvy.
Onstage for less than than a third of two generous sets lasting approximately three hours total, Lamar Williams arguably faced the most pressure in assuming role of the main lead vocalist for well-known tunes like “Stand Back.” But he betrayed not a whit of self-consciousness on that tricky tune or even on the more nuanced likes of “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.” Proof positive how Les Brers is exploring the expanse of the Allman Brothers discography, this young man also rose stylishly to the challenge of the Idlewild South ballad “Please Call Home.” Utilizing a silken R&B voice to hit all the right notes there and he let loose with more than one gutsy wail in bringing the properly dramatic climax to the first set-closer “Whipping Post” (more so than the guitarists in fact) Throughout those intervals when Williams remained on stage and was not at the mic, his perpetual smile radiated the obvious delight he sensed surrounded by such impressive musicianship.
Of course, as the Les Brers lineup (re)acquaint themselves with the intricacy of such great original as that aforementioned tour-de-force of Gregg’s as well as estranged guitarist Dickey Betts’ “Blue Sky,” there’s bound to be a certain tentative feel to the playing and there was, despite the fact the latter tune brought audience members to their feet then to the front of the stage for the duration of the performance. Still, as sung by guitarist Pearson in a reedy voice similar to the author’s (to whom he also offered due credit as the composer), this famous number was the first noticeable instance of Pearson coaching his guitar partner Bergeson to use the light, thin tone of his guitar with more confidence and authority.
As the evening progressed, though, Bergeson noticeably sharpened his playing to more closely emulate the thick, searing tones of Pearson. In fact, it was borderline startling to watch and hear how the former soloed with more ingenuity and edge, especially during the second set. It might be said he was coming into his very own as this evening progressed. Jack Pearson must have agreed, given the smiles of encouragement and recognition he offered his counterpart as the night wore on, yet his own level of excellence, in both his guitaring and his knowledge of the songs, indicates this unassuming musician is finally getting his due, both within the Allmans community and on a wider scale.
A member of the band only from 1997 to 1999, Pearson has his devotees to be sure, but he’s often the forgotten man between the 2000 ouster of Betts and the Warren Haynes/Derek Trucks axis of ABB’s later years. His reserved demeanor was in keeping with the subtleties that made this night in Rutland truly memorable. Introducing a John Lee Hooker song, he sang “Dimples” with gusto, more than a little akin to the way the Allman Brothers Band’s founder Duane “Skydog” Allman belted it out in his sole lead vocal spot in the group’s history (see Live at Ludlow Garage).
Clearly the stage leader during this performance, Pearson was equally poised and patient in his playing, with and without a slide, while his low-key repartee with the audience further connected the band with a raucous crowd. And the direction he gave his bandmates, including the redoubtable Burbridge, (who shook the floor more than once with his six-stringed instrument), was crucial to keeping the improvisational segments in focus: one minor exception was the band’s slightly ramshackle way through a Katz-led instrumental rendition of Joe Tex’ “Hold What You’ve Got.” But in an reflection of Les Brers’ growing camaraderie, one of Pergeson’s two turns on harmonica rescued the group.
In part because of the fluidity of the trio of drummers, no such meandering afflicted the band during “Mountain Jam,” though the audience was slow to recognize the theme of Donovan’s song. A brave choice for the admittedly fledgling lineup, the melodic motifs were as well developed as the open-ended intervals, where, it should be noted, Bergeson shone with playing as fiery as it was detailed. If the closing wasn’t quite as majestic as Allman Brothers devotees might remember from its hey-day (or, to be fair, from recent history), Les Brers came close, and even more so on their romp through “Jessica” as the encore.
To fully (and regularly) wield the fire of their famous forebears, Les Brers will need to tour regularly and thus aim to unite with a comparable cohesion. But if this somewhat newly-conceived band didn’t leave everyone at the Paramount Theatre in awe this summer-like evening, their overall performance was enough to compel seeing them again when, quite probably, the band will sound even better.