Still Rolling Strong

Allman Brothers Band

Chicago Theatre

August 7, 2001

First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2001, Volume 8, #10

Written by John Metzger

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Allman Brothers Band Publicity Photo

The Allman Brothers Band is unquestionably the most resilient group on the planet. Since the mid_í90s departure of guitarist Warren Haynes and bass player Allen Woody, the ensemble has been in a constant state of flux, altering its line-up with annual precision. Yet, each year, the members of the Allman Brothers Band have found a way to overcome what appears to be insurmountable obstacles. The latest blow came with the inexplicable firing of co-founder Dickey Betts, and many feared that this might be the end of the legendary group. However, if the bandís August 7 concert at the Chicago Theatre is any indication, itís not going to fade without a fight, and it just might survive intact.

The departure of Betts is no doubt a huge loss. His contributions, which included such crowd-pleasing favorites as Rambliní Man, Blue Sky, and Back Where It All Begins, were much anticipated and often concert highlights, offering the occasional laid-back country groove amidst the groupís heavier acid-rock turmoil. But now the tunes are only faint remembrances, relegated to Bettsí solo tours and the playlists of classic rock radio stations. It would be foolish to say that both the songs and Betts were not missed, but the Allman Brothers Band did everything in its power to make fans forget, if just for a few hours.

With Haynes now returning to the ensemble that first plunged him into the public spotlight, the Allman Brothers Band is now, more than ever, a blues powerhouse and a veritable powder keg of Southern rock. Haynesí grisly slide guitar thrust and parried with that of young prodigy Derek Trucks, as the duo challenged each other again and again, upping the ante with each incendiary solo. While Haynesí style tended towards a brutal attack as on the venomous Black-Hearted Woman, Trucks took a more nuanced approach, squeezing every drop of emotion out of each note that he played. It was his subtle textures that consistently provided variance throughout the evening, bathing Dreams with gentle beauty and flooding You Donít Love Me with raging soul.

However, the real life-force behind the Allman Brothers Band has always been its stirring rhythm section, and if anything, this quartet has grown tighter over the years. Butch Trucks and Jaimoe locked perfectly in synch, providing a steady, driving cadence, while Mark Quinones added pulsating percussive flourishes to color the edges of each selection. Taken together with relative newcomer Oteil Burbridgeís lyrically rumbling bass flares, the beats intertwined to create a explosive and commanding presence that propelled songs as diverse as the jazzy In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, the hard-edged One Way Out, and bandís funk-fueled rendition of The Same Thing.

As for Gregg Allman, his gruff vocals sparked the gritty Trouble No More and poured passion into the new song Who to Believe. His honky-tonk piano lit up the southern roadhouse of Statesboro Blues with a New Orleans fury, and he filled Soulshine with buoyant, swirling organ. The band never sounded better, however, than on Stormy Monday as Allmanís keyboards dripped and pooled around a myriad of thunder clap cymbals and the high-voltage lightning bolts emanating from the guitars of Haynes and Trucks.

Thatís not to say there werenít a few misfires along the way. Haynesí rendering of Iíve Been Loviní You Too Long brought the second set to a near standstill as did the dry, twenty-minute jaunt of percussion and bass that drifted out of a sparkling In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. Likewise, Midnight Rider served merely as a perfunctory interlude. Yet, in a show that spanned nearly three hours and five minutes, there was bound to be some filler. That there were only a handful of these moments is not only a remarkable feat but also a true testament to the power that the Allman Brothers Band still wields. Indeed, the road does go on forever. Just donít expect this group to head towards a rest stop anytime soon.

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Copyright © 2001 The Music Box