Rebirth and Revival

Allman Brothers Band

New World Music Theatre - Tinley Park, IL

June 18, 1999

First Appeared in The Music Box, August 1999, Volume 6, #8

Written by John Metzger

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It was thirty years ago when the Allman Brothers Band first hit the road and began turning audiences on to its unique blend of blues and southern-fried rock. It certainly hasn't been an easy journey for the group. Just a few short years into their career, they lost their lead guitarist and their bassist in separate, yet eerily connected, motorcycle accidents. It would have been the end of the line for most bands, but the ensemble kept right on playing and released two of its best studio efforts: Eat a Peach and Brothers and Sisters.

With the addition of Warren Haynes and Allen Woody in the late '80s, the group re-emerged with a fire and fury that they hadn't shown in years. In 1997, Haynes and Woody departed to focus on Gov't Mule, but again the Allman Brothers Band rebounded with the help of guitarist Jack Pearson and bassist Oteil Burbridge. Without missing a beat, the ensemble continued to turn in remarkable and moving performances, miraculously unaffected by the change in line-up. Just a few months ago, Pearson announced that he would also retire from the band, once again raising concern for the band's future.

How much longer could the Allman Brothers Band's luck hold out?  Have no fear, dear reader. If the group's June 18 performance at Tinley Park's New World Music Theater is any indication, its luck is holding out just fine. It seems there's a sun shining brightly in the Allman Brothers Band's world, and he goes by the name of Derek Trucks. There's a raw edge to his playing style — no doubt fueled by his youthful exuberance, yet this edge also reaches back in time and draws from the soul of Duane Allman.

Sure, a sense of uncertainty was scattered throughout the evening that yielded several miscues and some gaping holes in the music. Revival was confused and seemed to meander aimlessly, and Good Times Don't Fade Away showed potential, yet felt incomplete. Keep in mind though that this was only the newly reformulated group's fifth show. With time, it'll certainly gel and develop that unspoken communication, and when that happens Allman Brothers Band concerts are going to rival the best performances from the ensemble's storied past.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the evening was by far the pitiful sound quality of the venue. Any hope that during the winter months the theater's management had invested in improving the acoustics were quickly dashed by the hazy sludge that poured through the sound system. Burbridge's bass and Gregg Allman's keyboards were virtually inaudible for most of the night as were the between-song banter and many of the lyrics. Gentle, more nuanced selections like Melissa, Seven Turns, and Please Call Home — Allman's most passionate vocal performance of the evening — were ruined as the cavernous amphitheater turned into a giant black hole, swallowing the sounds emitted by the band.

About the only thing that did slice through the muck with any sort of clarity were the guitars of Trucks and Dickey Betts. Trucks seemed to fuel the collective, raising its energy level and at times squaring off in duels with Betts that spurred the songs to new heights. It was exciting to watch as Trucks brought in a number of new ideas and incorporated them into the Allmans Brothers Band's classic material. He turned Blue Sky and Southbound inside-out, tackling his solos with a unique phrasing from a different perspective. His stinging slide confidently pierced the heart of Sailin' ‘Cross the Devil's Sea, as pirate ships drifted along on the screen above him.

The highlight of the show was the second set's centerpiece — a stunning take on Les Brers in A Minor. On this song, everything came together for the Allman Brothers Band, and its true power was revealed fully. As the group locked into an intoxicating groove, a pushing and pulling of cosmic forces ensued, carrying the audience to the brink of a towering precipice. The ensemble released the song, allowing it to plunge into a swirling whirlwind of drums and percussion, framed by a vibrant, psychedelic light show. Burbridge emerged from the rhythmic cyclone and began to scat over textured bass chords, which seamlessly made the transition back into Les Brers in A Minor.

There's no doubt that by the end of the summer, the Allman Brothers Band will once again be a highly refined unit. After all, it has been one of the more consistent touring outfits over the past decade. Fans can only hope that Trucks will remain a part of the group for many years to come. There's no question that stability is important for an improvisational band's line-up, but he also brings a lot of energy and fresh ideas to the table. With enough experience, the latest incarnation of this legendary group will move mountains and shape new worlds with its music for a long time.

Eat a Peach is available from Barnes & Noble.
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