Usually when I write about a concert, I jump right in. But this one was to epic, too profound not to step back and ponder it, holistically, in the light of the morning after.
To bottom line it: OMFG. O. M. F. G.
Thursday night The Clapton rumors were all over the Internet. Tickets outside were going for hundreds of dollars apiece. The anticipation was so high that it would have been easy for the thing itself to miss the mark. That the band so thoroughly exceeded expectations is a profound credit to all involved. The first set was a monster-an entire three-hour Allman Brothers show crammed into one bulldozing, stampeding whirlwind assault. "I could go home happy now," I heard more than one fan say. Then the second set offered up some lovely palate-cleansing and preparatory music before finally Clapton came onstage, three songs in, for a six-song suite that was brilliantly conceived, well-rehearsed, beautifully executed, well-paced, fluid, seamless, delightful. Up there on stage is Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, and Eric Clapton; that isn't a front line, it's a freaking pantheon. After the show we all just looked at each other with stupid grins.
But I digress...
...something jazzy rises from the stage like a purple mist, dissolving into the 3-man "Little Martha," chiming, gorgeous. Then 'Statesboro Blues;" I don't know if it is the band, or being surrounded by friends, but every note sounds extra good. Warren pulls the sunshine through his slide. Gregg shines, then Derek. Then the band eases into the laconic shuffle of "Done
Somebody Wrong," stays there a bit until Derek plays the lines of the riff. Warren's solo is fat and round and slippery and in the pocket. "Revival" features some tasty and deliberate slide work by Derek on the extended break, then Warren picks it up and plays the second half of the solo Derek began. As Warrant takes over, Derek summons Farmer over to switch guitars.
"Woman Across the River" is OK, if you like hard, relentless, forward-hurtling face-melting blues. Warren's solo about halfway in begins auspiciously, Warren calling out precise notes; then Derek does fast runs up the neck over a center of chewy drummy goodness. Warren brings the song to a big, arcing finish as Derek finishes it out with a busted string.
A swampy "Don't Keep Me Wonderin'" gives way to a rare-as in, I've never seen one before-first set "Whipping Post." Part of you is wondering, what are they trying to prove, but then part of you sort of knows. Warren puts a lot of body English on his opening salvo, then the band falls apart around him, and Warren plays the notes between the silences. Then muted forward thrust, Warren piercing and true. He makes a deal with the devil, and explodes into hot waves of dark light. It is something to behold. Then the vocal section, then another sprint up the hill before the music dissolves into waves. Derek plays a trademark Derek solo, using the volume knob like he does to squeeze out dewy green droplets. Then a magnificent
crescendo and decay, Derek flirts with "Liz Reed" territory, then he goes all impressionistic, then back to the song for a big, thundering ending to a big, thundering set.
And, damn, it is only intermission.
Gregg comes on alone to begin set two with a solo piano rendition of "Oncoming Traffic," immediately evocative of the '05 acoustic sets. And it is a lovely, moving rendition. But there is an extra mic set up on stage, and a light green strat set up nearby, and the effect is inevitably one of showing your five year-old a giant cookie before serving dinner. Sure, she may like chicken and broccoli. And she'll eat it with gusto. But she's fixated on that damn cookie.
To be clear though, "Oncoming Traffic" was sublime. Same with "Come and Go Blues," which features thick juicy work by Derek. "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" features Danny Louis from Gov't Mule on keys, and Marc on Jaimoe's kit. The song comes on with a snaky, insistent waddle into the opening vocal section. Then Derek goes for the gut, Warren stings, Derek stings. Then Derek goes off the hook, as the kids say, before returning perfectly to the song. Derek steps up on the post-song stretchy play-out, then shrinks down to a tinkle.
And finally, the cookie.
The ovation is intense.
"Key to the Highway," and immediately the mofo is ON it. Clapton takes the vocals, Warren spanks it, Derek soars, then Gregg takes a verse ("Give me one kiss mama."). Then Clapton goes off and gets it again. It's just an 8-bar blues, but there is a multi-minute standing ovation. Butch, sticks aloft, bows to Clapton in the "We're not worthy" mode. Big fun. But we're just getting started.
Next up is "Dreams," a brilliant choice. It is to Clapton's credit that he wants to assay this ultimate Allman guitar vehicle; he could have easily fallen back on something familiar to him from his own or the classic blues repertoire. Derek is the focal point, as he is for much of Clapton's time on stage; the song rocks like a boat on a lake in summer. Clapton takes the first solo slot, peeling off note clusters; then he floats off on his back into the song. We drift along for the ride, until he pulls up and Derek enters. His solo builds and builds until he is bouncing bright shards off the walls. Then an exquisite moment as he hits the return note and the band throttles back onto the waltz time of the verse. The stops and changes are almost too much fun.
Next Clapton and band ask the musical question "Why Does Love Got to be So Sad." Derek tosses in the arty flourishes on the chorus, then Clapton takes a vintage Clapton run, and Warren sears; smoke rises from his strings. In front of me, Becca turns back, smiles. then Derek takes us all the way home, truly, home to that happy place deep inside. Then Derek and Clapton fly together. Eric sings through his guitar, Derek an angel above. Warren has stopped playing, letting the two of them have the space they need; then he joins in, the music is like colorful tears of light streaming down your face, three men taking turns reaching in and touching your heart, the band in the opposite of a hurry, until finally, inevitably, the song touches down. It almost makes you want to cry; to call this music beautiful would be trite.
I need a moment.
"Little Wing" is different, elegiac, yet picks up in the exact spot "Why Does Love." leaves off. Warren and Clapton sing the verse together, then Warren takes a soaring solo, evoking-well, evoking the British gentleman on the right of the stage, He hits that spot that hurts with pleasure, lingers there. Derek's lead gives way seamlessly to Clapton, Oteil throws down, finally everyone turns to face Butch, who drives the song home.
When Susan Tedeschi comes on we know it's going to be "Anyday." Warren does a little nasty, then Susan sings the verse, Warren plays skronky. Warren and Susan sing into the same mic for the chorus, a happy song radiating its joy; then Derek renders that joy on guitar.
If you've come this far then really, I don't need to tell you that they come back and encore with "Layla." Derek plays the Duane licks over Clapton's vocals, and Clapton positively sings the crap out of it. Danny Louis is back onstage, joining Gregg for the classic piano coda to the song; Clapton provides some chiming strat tone, then Derek, Derek, Derek. The band locks onto the classic groove, drums, bass, guitars all melding together, Derek peeling over the top, just leaning on the endorphin lever, quite literally causing the room of 3,000 to secrete joy. Finally, inevitably it is over.
The lights come up, we look around at each other, smiling. There is nothing to say; just an unspoken, "I know, you know." This is why we have come. It is why we keep coming back.
The band launches right into “Statesboro Blues”; Derek takes two nice solos. Then “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” keeps on going, refusing to end, Derek pulling the squawking blues, Oteil bouncing back the bottom. Together the two of them hit the note.
“Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” has pulled us all the way into the show; “Hot ‘Lanta” sounds immediately great. Gregg and the guitars take a round of crisp solos, Warren, Derek and Oteil lock in, push, into a big, deliberate end.
One of my favorite junctures in an Allman Brothers gig is the point, a couple songs in, where Warren gets his first vocal. This song often sets the direction for the rest of the set. Tonight there is a long, slow simmering run of picante foreplay; Warren is a total tease… then finally, the music flips over into “Who’s Been Talkin’.” Warren ladles on the gravy, Derek goes off, then he slips into double time, the band rolls and tumbles forward, Derek rings the bell, rings it till Warren calls everyone home for dinner. Then the final verse, and Derek and Warren get small, sublime over a gentle drums and bass bed.
A tight, cascading version of “Come and Go Blues” is followed by “Desdemona;” Derek plays a fiery, building solo that totally connects with the crowd. On his turn Warren hits on the “My Favorite Things” theme, to the inevitable delight of all, then works on variations over the chords; soon he’s into prolonged 12-alarm territory (this feels like a “Warren night.”) When he pierces his own pyrotechnics with the return note, the crowd goes nuts.
Beacon vet and Duane Allman cohort John Hammond comes on for a three-song stint to close the set. On “So Many Roads” the energy in the room drops, as gauged by the ratio of sitting-to-standing in the orchestra… but midway in they lock in and pull you back up. Then “Shake for Me,” a jaunty little song they’ve played with Hammond twice before; Gregg takes a nice turn, Derek takes several. Warren adds some nice slide on “Cryin’ for My Baby,” a nice bluesy way to end the set.
The second set provides something you don’t often get at an Allman Brothers concert: an estrogen buzz. The divine Bonnie Bramlett joins Gregg in a duet of “Oncoming Traffic,” Gregg on piano, the two of them on great, soulful weathered vocals. You can hear the whiskey and smoke. She stands center stage; the rest of the band is clustered off stage to the right, watching. Then Bonnie’s lovely daughter Bekka and the rest of the band come on for “Comin’ Home,” a song Bonnie wrote with some ‘60s Brit guitarist named Clapton. It is raucous and unbridled, with both women wailing; Bekka especially is over-the-top pumped to be here and whips up a tiny, demure little frenzy.
“Only You Know and I Know” follows, Warren is lovely on the verse, Derek on the outro, and Oteil is the rubber band man, but this is a song, not a jam, and it is a full-on party. The answer to “are we having fun yet?” is an emphatic “Yes!” (Actually, more like, “Yes, lawdy!”) Bekka leaves, Hammond comes on, and a painfully sweet “Come On In My Kitchen,” in retrospect inevitable. Gregg sings, slurs, growls; Hammond plays very slowly very, very well, putting the whole world into a simple lick. Then Hammond sings a verse, then Bonnie; Derek begins to tart it up just a tad, then he busts out, Warren’s aggressive chording egging him on. Hammond vocals, Bonnie vocals, a fast veteran round robin; Warren plays some slide into a nice Gregg run, into the closing, “Goin’ to be rainin’…” Mmm-mm.
Hammond off; Bekka back, Susan Tedeschi joins the Bramlett gals in the Allman-ettes over on the right, Bruce Katz is on keyboards for “The Weight,” back to the Aretha version. Susan sings the blazes out of the first two verses, Bonnie takes the third, Bekka the fourth, the three of them wrap their dark honeyed voices together for the gospel-style chorus. Katz rolls out a sprightly solo, the girls with call-and-response vocals over the top. Derek takes a melodic solo, then Susan glances over, and with a tiny crook of the finger takes the song from him for the final verse. Oteil is over by the girls, and if he were any happier, he’d burst. Bekka instigates a round of “on me” over Derek soloing that pushes the happy needle to 11.
Chicks. You gotta love ‘em.
The guests are off for a nicely played “No One Left to Run With,” an extended but earthbound version to ground the set to a close.
Derek and Warren come back alone for “Preachin’ Blues,” Derek playing, Warren singing. Then “Jessica,” Derek playing nice, round lines; his section has happy feet. Warren pokes, probes at that spot, you know what I mean… you don’t know what it is, but you know you’ll know when he hits it. He keeps poking, the band falls away from him, Oteil gets fast fingers… the band stills, Warren sets down his ax, walks off. Oteil and Derek make beautiful watery tonal exposition together, not a bass solo, but a lovely piece of music. Derek does gentle chiming with the drummers as Oteil goes all slappy; finally Oteil busts a move to hand off to the drummers. A brisk drum solo, the players return, Warren picks right up where he left off, rides the melody, hard, and then, yes, thank you, THAT’s the spot! Exactly!
See y’all Thursday.
Another “Little Martha” opener, lovely, with Oteil joining Derek and Warren. Then Derek works it on out on “Aint Wastin’ Time No More,” a song that was made for him; Warren offers a nice solo at the end. Then right into “Walk On Gilded Splinters,” heavy on the back end as Warren and Derek slather on the Tabasco. Next Oteil turns around, offers the drummers a funky, almost Philly soul bassline. Warren pours hot lines over a happenin’ little groove, Derek soars over the top… then it flips over into “Rocking Horse” with a mighty oomph.
Out of Warren’s solo on the mid-section break, the music ebbs, slows to an almost-stop; Derek plays gently over the sound of winding down. Oteil pulls out into a happy gallop, and Derek paints over the top, then he’s taking his “Rocking Horse” solo, but over what is now a totally different song. Then, finally, bam-bam, Warren takes us back to the Horse for the back end vocals… and out of the song, beautifully into “Gambler’s Roll,” dripping with dewy blues. Warren squeezes out teardrops of tone. All it is, is the blues, but no other band, anywhere, makes the blues this epic. Gregg sings the hell out of the song; the “Rocking Horse” into “Gambler’s Roll” is a stone cold highlight, bluesy and sweaty and perfect.
“Revival” starts and ends as a dance party, with a hot jam in between. “Woman Across the River” is twelve minutes in the smokehouse, nothing subtle, just the fire, Warren and band shoveling coal with frantic urgency. Then Randy Brecker and drummer Lenny White join the band for a rare, divine first set “Dreams.” Brecker’s trumpet embellishes the verse as he punches in between Gregg’s vocal lines; Warren comes in for his solo like a lion, goes out like a lamb. Then Brecker does the dance of life at the precipice of the abyss, the pure essence of the song after all; Derek gets on his pony and rides. Brecker blows cold steel over a hard outro.
Gregg strums into a lovely, lilting “Melissa” to start the second set. Then Robert Randolph comes on for “Lovelight;” with drummer Adam Nussbaum sitting in for Jaimoe. Brother Robert testifies on the pedal steel, then Brother Gregg on the vocals. I’ve heard from the Moogis home audience that Randolph was low in the mix; but he was plenty loud in the house. Randolph rollicks with band, throwing off white light until the song is almost “Jessica,” with Randolph shining over the top. Then the music yields to a muscular drum interlude, Nussbaum still on Jaimoe’s kit, then out of the drumming a slow, gradual, snaky entrance into “One Way Out.” But it picks up speed quickly; Warren goes around two times, then Randolph goes around two times, the second time going through the roof.
Nussbaum and Randolph exit, Lenny White and Randy Brecker return, and slowly music begins to seep out that takes shape as the Miles Davis tune “In a Silent Way.” The Brothers have assayed this number before, but never like this. Brecker sounds vaguely Spanish, directly evoking Miles Davis himself on a slow opening theme that is clear as a bell (and of course, if you were a bell, you’d go—well, you know.) Derek floats overhead, Brecker runs the voodoo down, Derek and Oteil are totally simpatico, drawn visibly, physically to him. The Allman Brothers sound bubbles up through the jazz at the part near the end that hints at “Birdland” (why does this song sound like “Birdland”? “Well, Zawinul wrote ‘em both,” Oteil pointed out to me once.) The Allman Brothers blues and the Miles jazz blend together, Derek composes on the spot as the music wanes, then 1, 2, 3, 4 and “Liz Reed.”
Brecker goes all Spanish/Latin/jazzy, right in tune with the song; Derek rips, it is a less introspective, more hard-charging night for him. He leans over to Oteil, and they put their flames together. Gregg’s solo is “on,” Warren careens out of time, frenetically, perfectly forward, faster, hotter, then the riffs deliver a release into the drum solo; more nights than not so far, there has not been a true drum solo. This one is taut, muscular;, then Oteil joins in, then legend Stanley Clarke strolls out to appreciative applause. He checks in with Lenny White, still on Jaimoe’s kit; then leads the furnace, laying down a rumble of low thunder. He adds an exclamation point of bass, high-fives Oteil, then walks of. Very “who was that masked man?” Hard not to wish he’d been on stage for the entire “In a Silent Way” and “Liz” interlude, but he had a gig on Long Island and probably got out of a car, dashed in the door, strapped on the bass and hit it.
Derek is back, he and Oteil improvise over drums; then Warren and Gregg return and Derek and Warren do the push me/pull you into the closing theme.
So now it’s 11:40, already a long show, so you figure, a quick “Southbound” and out. But no—Butch thump thumpa-thumps into “Mountain Jam.” Warren, Derek, and Oteil each suggest the theme to “Birdland,” a brief consensus is reached and Warren solos over the melody; then he goes off the page, and back into the “Jam” jam. Soon Warren gives a sort of a Norse head toss, and the music turns over into “Dazed and Confused,” a big scary vibe, Warren puts it to bed, Butch brings “Mountain Jam back, and an awfully big finish. This one will stick to your ribs.
The “Midnight Rider” opening is a sprightly version; then “Don’t Keep me Wonderin’.” On the end, Oteil erupts in joy, bending from the waist; Greg is moved to actually stop playing, and raise his hands in the air. The band tumbles through the pocket to the close. Then a slow groove intro with some Warren nice slide builds into the “Done Somebody Wrong” shimmy.
Next up is the new instrumental; it seems to meander a bit at first, then Derek brings some bite, and the song climaxes nicely, ending in ringing, lingering tone. Then the Asbury Jukes Horns take their places on the right of the stage, over past Oteil, for Warren’s rendition of “Into the Mystic.” Derek’s twangy slide lines give way to Gregg’s swelling organ, then the chorus; it is a moment. Then the horns, then horns, organ and vocals, and it is sweet soul music; the band rocks your gypsy soul. As always, the Jukes horn section is spot-on, tight, campy swingin’ fun.
Speaking of which, Warren brings out “TV’s Bruce Willis” for “One Way Out.” Last time he sat in, I thought he overplayed; but tonight Willis was almost remarkably good, playing blues harp like a harder-dying Sonny Boy Williamson. The crowd obviously loves him. Warren tosses Butch a nod, there is a drum break, then the two guitars spin out the licks, Willis wailing over the top. Gregg sings the hell out of the close, then Warren launches immediately into the snaky riff of “Smokestack Lightening.” Willis is immediately on it, into Warren’s vocals. Then Haynes and Willis roll all around in the bluesy mud together; Willis shouldn’t be this good. Derek moves to the fore, plays faster, higher up, the band follows him, then a crunchy return to riff, Willis blowing, and Warren singing the final vocals. I liked it.
The horns come back out for ‘Southbound,” and they are glorious high camp. There are other horn sections that sit in with the Brothers, and everyone is good; but the Jukes are the only ones who also have “an act.” Here they work it for all it’s worth, blowing synchronized, syncopated brassy bursts. La Bamba takes a solo over the other horns, then some speed demon guitars and sax locomotive. The horn players are swaying together to the beat like an old time horn section from the movies; if they are southbound, it is to south Jersey. The song ends the set with a happy exclamation point.
Boz Scaggs is onstage for the beginning of set 2, fronting the band for a sweet, self-contained four-song mini-set. Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh (It Takes a Train to Cry)” is an 8-bar blues, Warren is pure sweetness. Boz and Gregg trade verses, then the band lays on a rubbery “Rainy Day Women” groove and they are immediately deep down in the pocket. Then Boz quickly counts in the jaunty “Sick and Tired.” The horns are back, and it is instant soul revue, and right in Boz’s strike zone. Then “Aint No Love in the Heart of the City,” a minor blues with a serious “Thrill is Gone” vibe. Boz, Gregg and Warren trade off the vocals.
Then, finally, the blues juice spills over into “Loan Me a Dime.” Derek, of course, announces himself immediately. The next 13 minutes flow by in a state outside of time; it is 1969, when Boz’s version of this track with Duane came out; it is summer 2000, when the Brothers played this almost nightly. Of course the horns are still out, punching those charts for the part that on record is the extended fade. Derek pierces your heart, deft, fierce… the horns blow. Please, you think, don’t end. Then Derek steers the band beautifully down and around, slow again, to the verse. It is a little slice of heaven. The place erupts in a spontaneous ovation; Warren and the horn players are all applauding vigorously as Boz exits the stage.
Inevitably when the Jukes are in the house, you know you’re going to get “The Same Thing.” This take is full of fury. Oteil busts out in his mid-section slot after the first run-through of the song, then some Oteil/Derek/Jukes fury. Then Derek meets Warren in front of the stage for some guitar fury… the horns play the riff, brightly, full of color, to a shimmering end.
“Wasted Words” follows, Warren offering a nice extended slide attack on the outro, then a nice hand-off to Derek, who questions, probes over an insistent rhythm. Then, imperceptibly, they have moved into “what song was this again?” territory, and Derek tears through what is essentially now an entirely different song. Finally he nods to Warren, who pulls the jam back to the “Wasted Words” stopping place and close. Highlight.
Several times during “No One Left to Run With” Warren looks up at Allen Woody’s image on screen. There is an extended, monochrome jam, then the Bo Diddley riff, and they decay into spaciness and color. Warren provides an extended, valiant attack, with Duane literally looming overhead (courtesy the slide show.) Finally he chords the riff to call the band back; this takes a while because they don’t wanna come. Then finally the Bo Diddley beat and out.
The “Whipping Post” encore is dark and colorful and full. About a third of the way in, Derek, Warren and Oteil are hosing out colorful purple washes of tone; they all run together and ring. The music falls apart, then moves through different places until it has circled perfectly back to the pre-vocal slam. It is a cool, watery version, now go enjoy the rest of your Friday night.
I’m disinclined to write reviews that are as long as the ones I've done in the past, because everyone has Moogis now and gets to see the show at home, and besides, I forgot my notebook…
So the beacon is beautiful, shiny, classical, and majestic, and has “new theater smell.” Much has changed, and on balance I’d have to say the changes are to the good. It feels a little more formal, perhaps not the best environment for a hall full of Peachheads, but on the other hand, hey, we deserve it.
Derek crunches up the “Little Martha” opener, it is both faithful and fresh, and sets the tone for the night, and the run. Warren dirties up “Don’t Want You No More,” Gregg wrings all the juice out of the “Not My Cross to Bear” vocal; Warren feels him back, plays expressive blues. Derek says hello with some fat, hanging slide, then dashes up the fret board to a cat scratch crescendo.
A drummer gumbo heralds one of my favorites, “Gilded Splinters.” Then “The Same Thing,” Warren goes all skanky, meanwhile Oteil is having himself a little party. Warren and Derek finally careen together and the band smashes to a close. Then a big “herald” kind of space, like before “Les Brers” or “Liz Reed,” and the band is into a new instrumental, open, airy, jazzy, spacy, chimy. Derek slips into the song, like a guy with a newspaper easing into a hot tub; then when he’s good and ready he goes. Oteil pours buckets of bottom. It’s good.
“Leave My Blues at Home” locks in, Derek stings, it ends with a bam! Then Taj Mahal sashays out for a killer three-song set… On “Leaving Trunk” his harp and Derek’s guitar meld together. “44 Blues” wobbles along, a joyous rollick; Derek and Warren go a different kind of crazy. Greg chimes in nicely, then Taj caps it, tossing a pitch perfect Howlin’ Wolf imitation into the vocals. Then ”Statesboro Blues” brigs the set to a fun, sweaty close.
Levon Helm and posse are on stage to open set two, beginning with a lovely “Ophelia.” Derek steps forward for a round, then Oteil, then guitarist Larry Campbell, then Levon sings again; Brian Mitchell pounds out some nice honly tonk piano. Helm’s kit is on the right side of the stage , and he, Derek, Oteil, Campbell, and singer Teresa Williams seem almost like a little mini-band within a band. Campbell plays pretty lines on “I Shall Be Released,” and Warren nails it. Then “The Weight” is almost too much fun. Levon sings two verses, Gregg sings the third, beautifully, then Taj Mahal comes back out to slay everyone with the last verse. Derek’s melodic lilt is, I don’t know, lilting and melodic. Whew. Big fun.
“Black Hearted Woman” is a big set piece. Then an upbeat “Stormy Monday,” out of which the “Mountain Jam” mist fills the room. Finally they turn over into the song, laying on a big noisy front end. The band chugs along like a steady rollin’ train; some pretty Warren exposition on slide; he tosses in a little “Birdland.” Derek and Oteil respond in that “the band is a living organism” sort of way. Warren casts high curving solos into the mist… then into drums, but never just drums. Derek and Oteil vamp with the drummers, then back to the theme, then away. One of the spaciest “Jams” in recent memory. Warren comes on to lay down a little extra impetus… as if that is necessary. Then into a majestic back end, and an exquisite soft touch down, Derek wailing over the top with a sort of “Friend of the Devil” feel. Then a false ending, more theme, and finally Butch booms out the night. The “Southbound” encore is a nice way to unwind.
Really, a hell of a showing for the first night.