Thursday, July 3, 2003

Allman Brothers rite of summer
worth keeping

Concert review

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Allman Brothers Band's lineup has gone through countless changes since the group's earliest days. The death of Duane Allman more than 30 years ago was the most devastating loss, while the forced exit of Dickey Betts a couple of years back might be the most curious.

But, following the Betts episode, the Allmans' revolving door has quit spinning, and the jam-band institution is as stable as ever.

At the band's Riverbend show Tuesday night, the stability came through in the form of album promotion. The ABB is touring in support of a new studio album, making its annual summer visit to Cincinnati all the more worthwhile.

The one-set show - a relatively quick one by ABB standards, clocking in at 21/4 hours - included a few songs from Hittin' the Note, which came out in March, as well as the to-be-expected classics like "Statesboro Blues," "Good Clean Fun," "One Way Out," and the epic "Mountain Jam," which served as a one-song, 30-minute encore.

Hittin' the Note material stood up along side the hits. Keyboard player and bandleader Gregg Allman sang the plaintive ballad "Old Before My Time" and "Desdemona," which began as a ballad before launching into Southern-rock-and-blues pyschedelia, that trademark Allmans mix.

Guitarist Warren Haynes sang the bluesy "Woman Across the River," a song filled with call-and-response guitar soloing between Haynes and Derek Trucks.

In a band filled with excellent musicians, the guitarists were the stars. Haynes played the role of Betts, while Trucks, a slide-guitar master, made like Duane Allman.

It might be classic-rock sacrilege to say it, but Betts is missed more these days than the legendary Duane. Trucks is that good. Not only can he play any groove the band serves up, he dominates everything. His bottleneck solos made the numerous blues shuffles go, and he's by far the band's best improvisational soloist, earning the loudest rounds of applause during his spotlight moments within the band's instrumental classic "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed."

Haynes is a great player as well, but he's a one-dimensional blues man when matched against his band mate. And it's not that his playing compares unfavorably to Betts', but Betts is a more charismatic stage presence.

As good as Trucks is, he needs the ABB no less than the band needs him. His own Derek Trucks Band isn't half the fun of an Allmans show. It's a summer thing.


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