ABB - Beacon, NYC, 3/13/2003
The opening night set list was largely the new album mixed with an assortment of crowd pleasers. There was no "Sopranos Theme" opening; instead the band just ambled out and began tuning, until Otiel began playing an oddly familiar but funkified riff. Soon the band fell in around him and lo, it was "Wasted Words"-- perhaps the one oldie that the most fans were hoping to see pulled out. A pleasing beginning; The mid-section featured tight two-guitar soloing, and Warren was strong on the solo outro. Overall the song sounded surprisingly fresh. Next up was a jaunty "Statesboro Blues", with some tasty slide work from Derek and some assertive keyboard playing from Gregg, who was just on instrumentally all night, serving more as a third soloist than as textural fill-in.
On "Aint Wastin' Time No More" Derek shone with that nonchalant mastery of his; after his mid-song solo the crowd broke into the first spontaneous applause of the night. Warren followed with a busy, workmanlike solo, but this song belonged to Derek. Warren sang a relatively laid back "Woman Across the River", with Derek again taking the spotlight on a sweet mid-section bluesy lead, culminating in another outburst of applause. On the outro, Derek and Warren locked into place together and the extended section just killed.
"Midnight Rider" was next, a perfunctory but crowd-pleasing version; then "High Cost of Low Living." After Gregg sang the verses, the drums created an atmospheric space for Derek, and he swooped and soared through it, somewhat birdlike, almost reminding me of the Dead's "Birdsong." He was totally in the pocket, sounding like no one else (although I'd be lying if I denied hearing influences from Blow By Blow era Jeff Beck or Swing of Delight era Carlos Santana). It has now become clear that this set-- if not the show-- is a "Derek show."
After "Every Hungry Woman", Warren surprised and delighted with "Patchwork Quilt", his elegy to Jerry Garcia which he recorded with Phil Lesh and Friends and plays with the Mule, although I think this was a first with the Allmans. But the song belongs here-- "We were at Jones Beach when we heard the news"-- Derek's shiny, icy tone lending a sweet quality to the song. Indeed Derek, who usually looks as casual as can be, appeared particularly passionate on this number. I thought it was a highlight, for song choice if nothing else.
Another highlight was "Desdemona", with Derek, then Warren, soloing. Warren climbed and reached higher and higher, building, searching, until he seemed to break through to some unspoken level; after that he was peeling off illness and riffs and notes as if they were coming to him from some other-worldly place, faster than he could play them. A solid "Hittin' the Note" moment; indeed I was sorry when he had to scale back into the song's melody for the last verses. A tight, concise "Trouble No More" ended the set.
To the delight of many, they brought out the acoustics for the beginning of set two. Gregg stood for the songs he played on, an active participant. First "Come On In My Kitchen", with Gregg, Warren, Derek, and Otiel. It took a while to get going, and I noted that perhaps Derek has not yet developed the touch on acoustic that he has on electric. Then "Melissa", with Derek off stage, and it was beautiful, Warren playing the joyous lead to fit the song but distinctly in his own fashion-- eschewing the familiar triplets of Dickey's approach for long, graceful lines. Then Derek and Warren for "Old Friend", which Mark Berner compares on the album to Duane and Clapton doing "Mean Old World." Then a nice beginning acoustically to "Old Before My Time", during which the band segued back to electric.
At this point, honestly, there was no doubt what was coming next. It simply HAD to be "Dreams"-- the vibe was right, it was just time. From around the Beacon you heard calls for the song. Finally they launched into an ethereal version of that familiar blues waltz..I stopped caring who played what, being wafted away with the music. "Black Hearted Woman" seemed to be a palate cleanser before what also seemed inevitable-- the set piece "Instrumental Illness." Otiel grabbed the reigns and we were off and running. During the drum solo, about half way in, Marc locked into a groove that took us away from the song, Butch and Jaimoe followed his lead, and the rhythms started flying. The drums came to a full stop before Oteil began his scat and solo section; then back into "Illness."
"One Way Out" closed the show on an up note, and the obvious encore choice was "Southbound."
The show seemed more breezy than gutbucket-- no "Rocking Horse", Stormy Monday", "Same Thing", "Firing Line" and so on-- but that will come. It was not a show for the ages, but it was I think an auspicious beginning for this 13-show run. I felt like they avoided taking chances, playing a low-risk, crowd-pleasing show, and at times I wanted to hear more of the "new" Allman Brothers. But make no mistake, I had a blast, and like I say, the right way to ease into this run.
Added: Saturday, March 15, 2003
Reviewer: Josh Chasin