The Allman Brothers Band
The Beacon Theatre - New York City
3/12/05 and 3/14/05
by Mike D'Ariano
really like Christmas. I like the whole thing. The songs, the food, the gifts, the waiting, the myths, the smiling kids, the TV specials, the commercials, the mad dash to buy stuff for loved ones, the whole deal. Christmas, is hands down my favorite time of the year. I love the way it's different every year, but somehow, it's always the same. For very much the same reason, The Allman Brothers' annual March residency at the Beacon Theatre in New York City is my second favorite time of year.
Again, I gotta say, I like the whole thing. I like the day I find out that tickets will soon be going on sale, and for how many nights, plus I always enjoy getting a "Peach-o-gram" from someone named Lana at their website. I like figuring out how many of their shows I can afford to go to in a given year, and then once I have that number, figuring out just which shows those will be. I like calling friends and inviting them along, especially when I get to bring someone that's never seen the band. I like bullshitting with Beacon veterans about what the best shows ever were, and about whether or not this will be the year that Dickey Betts returns to the fold&every Allman fan's greatest desire which seems less likely with each passing year. I love getting a few brews before the show, formerly at Ernie's, then at the Spanish place Ernie's turned into, and now (Since the Spanish place which was Ernie's is now a Duane Reede) at the Westside Brewing Company. I love walking past the security guard in front of the Beacon with the megaphone, who I once spent six days working with side by side, but has no idea who I am. I love that big-ass inflatable mushroom by the t-shirt stand, and I love that stairway to nowhere or to heaven or to whatever backdrop that the band has set up on the stage before they go on. I love watching Kirk West and Brian Farmer scurry around the stage just minutes before showtime making sure everything is ready to go. I love the way the lights go down and the band members come out and proceed to tune their instruments for the next five minutes; instruments that have already been tuned for the last hour or so. I love the whole thing. My favorite part, of course, is the three-hour span between the end of the tuning, and the final bow.
This year, the band is playing ten gigs between 3/10 and 3/22. I've gone to at least two of the Beacon shows every year for the past five years. This year, I scored tickets to the shows on Saturday 3/12 and Monday 3/14. The 3/12 ticket combined both of my favorite times of the year, as it was a Christmas present from my Mom.
Anyway, about 19 hours ago, I walked out of the Beacon for the second time in three days. I turned to my friend Rob and said, "You know, there may well be bands out there that are as good as the Allmans, but there is definitely no one out there that is better." He agreed, and we walked to the car riffing on the night's highlights, and devising a rough plan to make some music together in the vein of the acoustic/electric duet between Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks that came early in the second set.
The two shows that I attended in this year's Beacon run had a distinct structure to them. The first set was a kind of standard Allman Brothers set with songs drawn from all over the place; old ones, new ones, middle ones, and a few written by other folks. The second set began with a real treat, one that I thought most of the Beacon audience didn't seem to really appreciate.
Under his regular magenta stage lighting, seated at a grand piano on the opposite side of the stage from his regular setup, Gregg Allman began the second set of each night all by himself. In the dozens of times I've seen the Allmans over the years, I've never seen Gregg perform by himself. Even at Gregg's solo gigs, with Gregg Allman and Friends, I've never seen Gregg actually take the stage solo. It was pretty spectacular to watch him. Each night he did two songs in this fashion, and with every second of his micro-set, Gregg silenced another of his critics who are known to spout off, "Gregg's shot. They just cart him out so they can use the Allman Brothers Band name". At the second of the two shows I attended, Gregg gave us an added bonus by playing "Rain", the Beatles song he first recorded over two decades ago on one of his solo albums.
After Gregg's two tunes at the piano, he donned an acoustic guitar, and was joined on stage by Warren Haynes. Interestingly enough, over the two nights, this was the only moment of the show that was the same. They played the lone repeat song of the two nights at the exact same moment. The song was "These Days" which they announced as a tune by Jackson Browne, and most people know by Tom Rush.
Following, "These Days" Gregg left the stage, and Warren was joined by Derek Trucks. With Warren on acoustic guitar and Derek on electric, they dueted for one song each night. Both nights, those songs were made famous by the great delta bluesman, Son House. The first night was "Death Letter" which Derek and Warren did together on the Derek Trucks Band album, Out of the Madness. The second night they did "Preachin' Blues" with the great line, "I'm gonna get me religion, I'm gonna join the Baptist church, I'm gonna be a Baptist preacher, so I won't have to work." Classic.
After the nightly tribute to Son House, the rest of the band reemerged onstage, and all bets were off (No pun intended) as the band tore the room apart with two of the best second sets I've ever seen them play. Instead of a bunch of shorter songs, the band chose to dominate the second set each night with two massive lengthy jams apiece, with one or two short songs acting as bookends. The first show featured extended versions of "Dreams" and "Rockin' Horse." The second night saw what was for me the highlight of the two shows, a long jam which intertwined the Derek and the Dominos song "Why Does Love Have To Be So Sad" and the Grateful Dead tune, "Franklin's Tower." It wasn't a first for the band, but it was the first time I saw them do it. The jam was such a great one-two punch and the audience was still reeling from it when the band went for the knockout. The next song was the Allman's classic, but rarely performed since Dickey's departure, "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." The Beacon damn near exploded.
Both shows that I attended (along with the 8 remaining performances the band did this year according to Jambands.com) featured special guests joining the band on stage.
In the first set of the first night, Hubert Sumlin, who served as Howlin Wolf's guitar player for almost twenty years and in doing so became a legend in his own right joined the band on ".44 Blues" and "Smokestack Lightning." During the second set that night, saxophonist Jay Collins, who as of late has been performing with Gregg Allman and Friends, joined the band during "Dreams." During the "Why Does Love/Franklin's Tower Jam" of the second night, the band was joined by Rob Barraco, the former Dead keyboard player who has been more or less M.I.A. since leaving that band.
We've established that I really do love the Allman Brothers Band, and that there's no better place to see them than within the smoky confines of the Beacon Theatre on 74th and Broadway in New York City, but I have to say even though it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to enjoy myself at these shows, they were better than even I expected them to be. The shows were so enjoyable that during the intermission of the second night, myself and two of the three friends I was with (including Charlie who was seeing the band for the first time) decided that it would be worth our hard-earned dough to hit one more show. We called up my girlfriend from the Beacon and had her order us tickets to the final night of the run. The show is scheduled to feature full sets by the band and all of its subsidiaries: Gov't Mule, The Derek Trucks Band, Jaimoe's Jasss Band and Otiel and the Peacemakers. I'll have a full review of that show for you next month.
Photos by Mike D'Ariano