Allmans Revitalized

Allman Brothers Band / Sister Hazel

New World Music Theatre - Tinley Park, IL

August 16, 1997

First Appeared in The Music Box, October 1997, Volume 4, #11

Written by John Metzger


Just a few, short months ago, the Allman Brothers Band announced a potentially catastrophic line-up change with the departure of bassist Allen Woody and guitarist Warren Haynes. On August 16, the newly revamped group, which now features Jack Pearson on guitar and Oteil Burbridge on bass, drifted into the New World Music Theatre in Tinley Park and quickly destroyed the notion of a rebuilding period.

Given the changes and the addition of an opening act, it wouldn't have been a surprise had the Allman Brothers Band delivered a shorter set than usual, but instead, the group unleashed a 2-hour, 40-minute blitzkrieg of classic blues-based rock. Still the show wasn't without its worrisome moments.

The instrumental Don't Want You No More was a perfect choice to introduce the new members of the Allman Brothers Band, as they each whipped out a few short licks as if to say, "hello." As the song rolled into the 1969 Gregg Allman classic It's Not My Cross to Bear, however, the songs began to shorten, lacking the usual all-out jams of the past. Cruising through Statesboro Blues and Sailin' Cross the Devil's Sea, the ensemble left little room for itself to maneuver, and the momentum began to slip.  Midnight Rider didn't even attempt to break free.

As if this wasn't enough, the skies had opened the floodgates, and once again a Chicago audience was bombarded by rain and driving wind. The Allman Brothers Band was saved the drenching that Neil Young had received a few weeks earlier, but the crowd wasn't so lucky. The wind blew the rain through the front of the stadium, sending many people scurrying home. Even the lawn cleared out as people gathered in the aisles. Water rushed down into the pavilion, recreating the rivers that had formed at the Neil Young show. Fortunately, the rain didn't last quite as long as it did at Young's concert, though the lightning was much more spectacular and remained for most of the Allmans Brothers Band's set. Through all this, the group kept playing, despite a momentary loss of power.  As it launched into Change My Way of Living, any anxiety over the state of ensemble began to evaporate.  Though both Trouble No More and You Don't Love Me also seemed to lack their punch, the collective built all the other remaining songs to a feverish pitch. Blue Sky contained the now-familiar opening jam on the Grateful Dead's Franklin's Tower. In fact, the jam went on much longer than it has in the past and kept climbing in intensity until finally bursting into a blistering Blue Sky.

Stormy Monday took the remaining cobwebs from the Allman Brothers Band and tossed them into the wind. The group locked into a slow blues that contained the intensity and power that the collective is so good at creating. Allman and Burbridge caught a jazzy groove, which flowed so smoothly that it seemed as if the music was playing the band. Meanwhile, Pearson nailed a few slick guitar solos that more than displayed how good he really is. As the ensemble launched into Jessica, it appeared as if the show was drawing to a conclusion, but in fact, it was just getting underway.

Jessica was stretched to nearly 20 minutes in length. After the opening refrain, the song entered into a percussion-driven jam. Then the sounds of Burbridge plowed through the mix as he shredded a series of unyielding bass runs. Pearson and Dickey Betts also crept into the action with a guitar duel that drove the song into some other plane of existence. Slowly Jessica gave way to a full-blown, and equally mind-blowing, Mountain Jam before concluding. Oddly, throughout this explosion, a large portion of the audience chose to talk. This only became worse as Betts launched into Those Eyes Again, a terrific new song that sounds like a slow version of Blue Sky.  The group continued to mine the classic songs on its first album with an outstanding performance of Dreams, which first departed on a soft, space-filled jam complete with bird-like sounds. Slowly, the tempo grew faster as the band built the song into a full-blown Other One jam that raged uncontrollably before settling back into the conclusion of Dreams. Pearson also pulled out an outstanding vocal performance on Dimples, a song that Duane Allman sang with the group a long time ago. After a solid Back Where It All Begins, the group continued with a 30-minute In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.

It was simply mind-blowing to see the Allman Brothers Band continue to churn out song after explosive song, many of which are such classics. In Memory of Elizabeth Reed was an all-out jazzy excursion that let those who were listening, close their eyes and get carried away. Again, Burbridge was nailing a number of bass runs while locking onto the driving rhythmic pulses of the rest of the ensemble. After a short drum solo, Burbridge got a chance to solo on his own, leaving no doubt as to his excellent capability.

The encore for the evening was a quick run-through of No One to Run With, which continued the traditional light show of rock heroes no longer with us. Jerry Garcia received the biggest cheer, and John Lennon scored a close second.

Sister Hazel, a group from Gainesville, Florida, opened the show with an outstanding set of original songs. The group clearly grabbed the audience's attention, as many folks wandering in late wondered who was on stage. Its ensemble's sound is very similar to the Freddy Jones Band, and its guitarist is clearly the star. He pulled out a number of blistering, Allman Brothers-inspired solos that made Sister Hazel's set very enjoyable.

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Copyright 1997 The Music Box