At the Crossroads
Allman Brothers Band
Taj Mahal Casino - Mark Etess Arena
June 24, 2000
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2000, Volume 7, #8
Written by Tom Hall
On June 24, the third installment of the Allman Brothers Band in the last four years performed at the Mark Etess Arena located within the Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. In 1997, guitarist Jack Pearson and bassist Oteil Burbridge had replaced Warren Haynes and Allen Woody who had left to concentrate solely on Gov't Mule. Last year, Pearson departed in favor of guitarist wunderkind Derek Trucks, who had experience sitting in with the group as far back as 1990 — when he was only 11 years old! Trucks, who evokes memories of Duane Allman, fit right in, and it appeared as if the band would show no signs of slowing down as they entered their fourth decade.
However, the latest change stirred quite a controversy since the departing member was none-other-than co-founder Dickey Betts. Furthering the debate was the fact that Betts did not leave of his own volition. Rather, the Allman Brothers Band informed him via fax that his services would not be required on their summer tour and that his dismissal was due to his poor performance during the group's annual run at New York City's Beacon Theatre. Betts vehemently denied the allegations and the alleged cause — substance abuse. The door was left open for Betts' return in the fall, but that remains highly questionable since Betts has sued the group for misrepresentation by touring as the Allman Brothers Band without him and for damage to his professional reputation.
Many longtime Peachheads were highly displeased because tickets had gone on sale long before the announcement was made public. A sizeable number of fans felt that without Betts' guitar and vocal contributions the band should have cancelled their tour until the situation was resolved rather than continuing on with yet another line-up change.
Not surprisingly, the Brothers' Atlantic City set was composed primarily of songs from their first two albums, as they chose to omit most of the later material which often showcased Betts. Though he was forced to carry all of the vocal duties, Gregg Allman was in top form, continuing his steady resurgence of recent years. In particular, One Way Out featured Allman at his best as he belted out a fine piano solo and had the crowd singing along, which usually is the case with this song.
At the age of 21, Derek Trucks demonstrated why he is more than capable of carrying the load as frontman for the group. Trucks relies heavily on slide guitar and his unique style of finger and thumb picking. As usual, his stellar performance was as enjoyable to watch as it was to hear.
The trio of percussionists (Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, and Marc Quinones) delivered the goods, creating an underbelly of percolating grooves. Rounding out the rhythm section was bassist Burbridge, whom Betts has affectionately called "the best I've ever seen."
Betts' replacement is Jimmy Herring, who has long been associated with the band through the side project Frogwings. For the most part, Herring stayed in the background, and his few solos were short, basic, no-frills affairs. Understandably, Herring is in a tough spot, and it would be hard to think of anyone who could have done much better on such short notice.
Many fans probably felt that the highlight of the show was a forty-minute rendition of Mountain Jam, which had been on the shelf since a brief return in 1993 and is now a staple of the summer tour. Many Peachheads likened Mountain Jam to the Grateful Dead's Dark Star, but recent renditions of this song have carried little of the flow and feeling of the epic versions that the group had performed with Duane Allman. Trucks handled the bulk of the lead guitar work during the song, which also showcased a scat solo by Burbridge. Unfortunately, Mountain Jam also featured an obligatory drum solo that continued for far too long.
The Allman Brothers Band returned to the stage for a lengthy Whipping Post, which brought the rather quiet (and less than sellout) crowd to their feet. It was a fiery conclusion to a nearly three hour show.
Overall, the Allman Brothers Band did step up to the plate and perform well. However, without Betts, a noticeable piece of the group is missing. Over the course of their thirty-one year career, the band has been at the crossroads on numerous occasions, and they've pulled through each time with varying degrees of success. It certainly appears that the Brothers are once again at that point, but without Betts the cards are clearly stacked against them.
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