B List: Ten Hopes for Allman Brothers Band Beacon Run

With the Allman Brothers Band 2012 Beacon Run set to kick off on Friday, we wanted to re-publish Chad Berndtson’s thought-provoking preview about what he’d like to see from the legendary band.

Dear Allman Brothers Band,

You’re old, and you’re aging well. I continue to shell out for the Beacon because your surprises and your sense of adventure can still blow past even a seen-it-all concertgoer’s most optimistic hopes — when you feel like it.

Some of the Beacon and United Palace shows I saw between 2001 and 2011 are in my Top 30 all-time nights out. Others, I feel like I overpaid — really overpaid in some cases. So here’s to keeping things interesting and renewing ABB Nation’s faith that your March shows are the one of the most reliable investments in live music — with a few gentle suggestions from a longtime and wholly devoted fan fully prepared to get ripped apart by other Nation members disagreeing with all ten.

If you’re expecting another “Ask Dickey to sit-in” request, that’s not what we’re about here. Assume that we love you already, that we will practice tough love based on how much money you charge for these shows and how good we know you really can be, and that we’re always up for some new flavors of fun.

1. Play another new original — even if it’s a sketch.

There’s been a whole lot of “definitely, maybe” talk about a new Allman Brothers Band album for years now, and we have seen snatches of new material here and there, though apart from Bag End, the vast majority of your first time plays are either new covers or songs familiar to side projects like the Warren Haynes Band or Tedeschi Trucks Band. I find it hard to believe that the current Allmans lineup doesn’t have at least something else kicking around, even in rough sketch form. What better place to workshop it than in front of ravenous Beacon fans that would know immediately — and appreciate immediately — that it’s a new original?

2. Make the guests come to you.

I did five shows during the 2009 Beacon run, and while the 3/28/09 event brought things to a suitable close, it came thisclose to total deflation thanks to the beginning of the second set. It was time for fireworks — second set of the last show of a justifiably legendary run! — and instead came nearly a full hour of plodding jams on Grateful Dead songs. I love Grateful Dead music, love Phil and Bobby, and love any time these two oh-so-influential worlds blend together, but this was the wrong choice at the wrong time. Why not push Phil and Bobby to play Allmans music? Why not an intra-band mega-throwdown on Mountain Jam (which, ironically, was played nearly half hour later, without Bob and Phil)? Seemed like a missed opportunity to these ears.

You integrate guests better than most groups, but you too often slide into a comfortable backing band role for that guest’s songs or toss out a failsafe popular song everyone knows. Makes sense – you don’t want to run the risk of a totally trainwreck sit-in – but push the envelope with the guests, guys. It’s perhaps no surprise that some of the most successful sit-ins from the 2011 run — John Scofield, Randy Brecker, Oz Noy and especially, Bill Evans — came from jazz-centric players comfortable with adapting to various types of ensembles and adding to them. It’d be fun to see even more of that if you’re going to continue to make these shows so guest-heavy.

3. Vary the sit-in songs.

I welcome any opportunity to hear the Asbury Jukes horn section — or any up-to-the-task horn section — with the Brothers at the Beacon. That said, if I see the mics set up on stage for the horns, I can call out five likely horns songs and be right about at least three of them, no? That’s just one example. I understand that Southbound and One Way Out are classic sit-in vehicles because they’re relatively easy to play and hinge on easily digestible, pass-the-baton style solos. But here’s hoping you shake things up a little more and keep the sit-in songs a little less predictable. During the underrated 2010 United Palace run, for example, there were sax sit-ins on both Jessica and Whipping Post on different nights. Try a lot of new things with these hotshot players. That’s why we come to see you at the Beacon: because you’re reliable, but also because these are the shows to see you at your most adventurous.

4. Cover inventively.

It’s a matter of taste and personal preference; one man’s “wow” cover is another’s “why bother.” You’ve proven in recent years that you can definitely pick cool covers, but you sometimes come dangerously close to being a classic rock jukebox. Here’s hoping for a tighter focus on selecting songs that’ll really make sense. It’s hard to pin down exactly why, but I can’t be the only Allmans fan who instinctually likes what the band has accomplished with Blind Willie McTell and Ain’t No Love In the Heart of the City, and also knows right away that I don’t need snooze-paced Allman Brothers versions of Shakedown Street and All Along the Watchtower.

5. Keep the jazz fusion coming.

You’ve always had a jazz element — it’s part of what made you an original way back when — and the current version of the band has the most pronounced jazz proclivity of any lineup. Well hey, fellas, keep scratching that itch. Your recent workouts on selections like Afro Blue, In a Silent Way and Spanish Key have been really interesting — not exactly Midnight Rider-accessible to a casual ABB fan, but for the diehards, in particular, a chance to hear you do something really different, and shake up the pacing and structure of setlists as a result. I say awesome, and also, more, please.

PAGE TWO = Instrumental Illness, Small Groups, Bustouts and More

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25 Responses

  1. thx chad, think a lot of your points are spot on here. i agree 100% that we need to get instrumental illness back into rotation and while we’re at it…where the hell has “Nobody Knows” been?!? what a great tune…they KILL this one…and yet they never dust it off. yes its a dickey tune, but we get a healthy dose of southbound so where’s the logic?

  2. Nice job Chad–particularly with the High Falls suggestion. Been dying to hear this version of the band do this gem again.

    I have one more to add…play that extended outro on Midnight Rider from the United Palace shows. It gave that tired old warhorse new life.

    And, oh yeah, plays Dreams nightly. It’s perhaps the greatest song in the canon and one that Derek & Warren positively OWN.

  3. What a load of obnoxious self centered crap. Dear Chad, get over yourself you little obnoxious punk. You don’t speak for the public and people shelling out their hard earned dollars. What a jerk.

  4. @Gary and @Rage Agreed on all counts.

    @Bob Good call on that Midnight Rider suggestion. Every so often it seems like they fool around with opening that up, and it never seems to stick.

    @Michael Never presumed to speak for anyone else, but I’m a longtime paying customer of these NYC runs. Instead of dopey personal attacks, tell me which of the suggestions here you find fault with.

  5. All of them Chad. They are obnoxious on there face. You sound just like some message board twit who thinks you can speak for the public.Should the make a new record? Sure, but they don’t. You or 25 people on a message board can’t speak to what the general public does or doesn’t want to see. I love the jazz sit ins, but that doesn’t mean that the public at large likes them better than Phil and Bobby. I’d be happy if I never saw Bobby again, but you know what, that is just my personal taste and I sure as heck would never say it to a Bobby fan to ruin his enjoyment.

    People on message boards or even an article like this, it is beyond laughable that you all think you can speak to everyone’s experience or about how a show should be paced batter. For instance lots of fans want an acoustic set but the band probably is way more aware that many others don’t. They should play whatever the heck they want to play, and if they start doing it in a way the public doesn’t like then guess what, the public will stop coming.

  6. @Michael Never said I was speaking for the “public”; it’s made pretty clear above that these are my opinions. I’m an invested fan sharing some thoughts after many years and hundreds of dollars’ worth of Beacon and United Palace tickets. I’m not getting how that translates to me looking to ruin a fellow fan’s enjoyment — fan discussion is such a great part of what preserves this community we’re all part of, no?

    You’re right, the public’s going to do what the public’s going to do. From this fan’s perspective, however, I like when the ABB try new things, and I say that knowing there’s a fan contingent that’d still be happy even if the band returned to a stock setlist approach and never experimented. I think the Beacon shows are pretty expensive for a band that’s still one of the most reliable in the world but in recent years, to my ears, has also shown diminishing returns and become a tad predictable. I was excited when Phil and Bobby walked on stage with the Brothers in ’09 and then felt disappointed that they all couldn’t step a little more outside of the box than three sluggishly played Dead tunes.

    I’m telling you what I like, not what I presume the public wants. You’re not ruining my experience no matter how many of your opinions I disagree with, so tell me what you like and don’t like.

  7. Great read Chad…definitely one of the most interesting articles on the Brothers that i’ve read in some time.

    @Michael – chill out, he never said he was speaking for anyone but himself. Its just one mans (well thought out) opinion in an article on a music blog. There are more important things to get mad about…

  8. Lesh/Weir sitting in in 2009 that was an unmitigated disaster according to everyone I know and the tapes. Doesn’t mean they’re not great musicians, it just means it was a bad match at the end of an AMAZING 40th anniversary run.

    Like you said, have guests fit better & on ABB tunes–a-la Clapton on Dreams & Liz Reed that same year. Damn that was sweet!

    Either way, these are great thoughts. Wish I could make the Beacon this year. Kills me I haven’t made that journey in 11 years.

  9. Chad you framed this article with a “Dear Allman Brothers Band”.For me that gives the whole article a patronizing tone. “You are old and have aged well” Sorry dude, but that strikes me as condescending as all get out. So by starting that way you got my dander up. So I will apologize right here for going overboard in my initial response.It has no relevance in my opinion to discuss what I or you want the Allman Brothers to do. We would probably have a better discussion if we emailed on this stuff. I don’t have time right now to discuss this fully. I do check this site and and usually enjoy your work.

  10. Hey Chad. I’ve been doing the annual rite of spring with ABB ever since they started playing every spring in NYC 23 years ago. I agree with much of what you have to say. Would love to hear High Falls, had enough of the strippers during Black Hearted Woman (one of my favorite songs). The night with Phil and Bob bored me to tears. But the two nights that same year with Clapton brought me tears of joy. I have always said that the guests should be fitting into the ABB music, not the ABB playing backup for them. I like to hear what the guests can bring to the time-honored ABB music. However, I am always happy to hear the Jukes horns play southbound. The year with Peter Frampton/Jukes Horns – that was an amazing rendition of Southbound. I love Instrumental Illness and have missed it. Don’t really get off on Bag End or Egypt. I’m always hoping for something new, whether I like it or not. Just nice knowing they are trying to bring us something new. I have never missed an opening night in NYC. One thing that I really enjoy about the ABB is seeing how they start out that first night and watching how the music develops over the run. It might be a little rough around the edges that first night – but there is that first night electricity and promises of what is to come. I have tix for 6 shows this year but might add one or two more. It seems I just can never get enough, and just can’t stay away. Hope we’ll have a another great time this year.

  11. @Michael Drop me a line anytime, always appreciate a good back-and-forth.

    @Skydog and Peechee Agreed that those Clapton nights sure were special, not only for the historic sit-in but also because of the song selection. Eric really cooked during that Liz Reed — cooked during most of his sit-ins, really — and had some fire that’s been missing from his headlining shows for many years.

    Most guests the Brothers have are pretty good, but the folks that REALLY add something are few and far between. Having spent some time listening to all of the 2011 Beacon shows, I’d put the first part of the second set on 3/14, with Bill Evans, and the first part of the second set on 3/21, with Randy Brecker, as the strongest music of the run. Bill and Randy (and Scofield, during his sit-in) took hold of their sit-ins and really tried to add, and anytime a guest does that, it pushes the ABB to take their game higher, too, particularly Warren, imho.

  12. Great read. I appreciate your thoughtful & well reasoned analysis and found myself nodding at some of the points. Clearly your article was driven by love and passion for the band, which is far more admirable than someone posting obnoxious flame hate in the comments section.

    p.s. I would support a national moratorium on bands covering Watchtower.

  13. As an Allmanac myself, I really dug this article. I agree with so much of this, and have had similar disscussions and/or rants. How about some Rogues shit? “Just aint easy” could be great, or blowing up “Pegasus” perhaps……I dissagree with you on the lightshow, I love the trip graphics. And personally I like the Watchtower the Bros. do

  14. One more thing. You hit the nail on the head with Shakedown. I mean why not go old school and throwdown a 30 minute lovelight?….That has a relevance and thread to Duane,Jerry, Berry, pig etc. Or at least make phil and bobby throwdown on a post or something wacky like that…..again great article man.

  15. I think the point of any article is to get people interested enough to actually read the article.

    It sparked my interest and I enjoyed the opinion piece.

    Thanks Chad. Good job. It is a job, right?

  16. well said Chad – i agree with just about all your suggestions – and Michael, that’s all they were so relax bro – especially the last one about the graphics. I know the band and the fans both respect what Duane, Dickey and Berry did in the early years, but to superimpose them on the screen while Derek, Warren and Otiel are shredding is a bit disrespectful to the current members.

    I do disagree on the Lesh/Weir sit-ins – i say bring those cats along EVERY year!

  17. Hey Chad,Goddamn you really hit the mark w/this article,….more jazz fusion guests(Mr. McLaughlin or Bily Cobham,anyone?!?),less meandering Dead poopoo and delve deep into the back catalogue,rework/reintroduce some of those gems(Nobody Knows/Mean Woman Blues) and shake a leg,mofos……………..CHEERS

  18. Bring back the “Southern” to the worlds greatest Southern Rock band….The bad jazz is obnoxious..

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