Legends old and new on display in Charlotte

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Phil Lesh & Friends/Allman Brothers Band
Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
Charlotte, North Carolina
October 4, 2008

Like a fine wine, or the sharpest of cheddars, Phil Lesh and Gregg Allman have only gotten better with age.  Both now free from chemical dependency, the legends continue to attract throngs of devoted, almost obsessive fans with performances that are tight as a drum, yet fresh and new from one night to the next.

abbphil_a.jpgOn October 4th, Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Charlotte, NC played host to the much anticipated co-bill of The Allman Brothers Band  and Phil Lesh & Friends.  The evening of music featured both legends and young guns who, with time, will be legends themselves.

The outdoor venue was bursting with classic jam rock with a 21st century flair, and from out in the parking lot hundreds had gathered, perched up on top of a hill with coolers and chairs, listening intently as the first notes rang out.  It was reminiscent of the days when impromptu festivals were organized and the music was played loud enough to attract people from all directions to come enjoy the music.  Inside, the venue was teaming with a sea of very young fans and their equally devoted elders.  Not at capacity, but not far from it, the roars of approval were at times deafening as the evening progressed… it was truly something to behold.

Few can argue that Allman Brothers guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks are two of THE premier axe wielders around, and their sweet, sweet guitar work on "Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’" and "The Same Thing" set the tone for an evening filled with all star players. This was going to be some kind of Allman Brothers show!

abbphil_b.jpgOver the course of the night, drummer Paul Riddle (Marshall Tucker Band) took a turn driving the bus for the Brothers.  Later Larry Campbell (Phil & Friends) sat in on fiddle for "Come On In My Kitchen" and James van der Bogert (Gregg Allman and Friends) added his stick-handling abillities during Van Morrison’s "Into The Mystic."  Later Phil & Friends’ multi-talented youngster, Jackie Greene sat in on guitar with bandmate John Molo on drums for "Southbound."

Oteil Burbridge held the bottom down, flashing frequent smiles to the band.  Allman’s voice was strong all night and you could tell that he was having a lot of fun on stage.  Nobody on the stage appeared to be having just another night on the road.  Though the set lacked a "Jessica" or a "Statesboro Blues" it was solid, and the crowd really responded when The Allmans pulled out a 20-minute "Whipping Post."  This fresh take on the classic, epic tune was truly the highlight of the evening as Trucks and Haynes tore into the the jam with a fierce intensity.  This was not the "Whipping Post" that’s overplayed on classic rock stations – it was a solid exclamation point to end one of the better Allman shows Charlotte has seen.

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There was an hour and twenty minute changeover between bands, a little excessive for a production crew that had been on the road together for some time and a venue where an 11:00 pm curfew always leaves the concert goer concerned about start times.  There was an impatience filtering from the top of the lawn to the first rows, and out into the parking lot.

abbphil_d.jpgWhen the house lights dimmed, a thunderous roar welcomed Phil Lesh & Friends.  A burst of colors filled the covered pavillion and the clear Charlotte sky.  It was a site to behold.  The standard Friends lineup of Phil Lesh (bass/vocals), John Molo (drums), Larry Campbell (guitar), Steve Molitz (keyboards), and Jackie Greene (vocals/guitar/keys/harmonica) took the stage, opening with "Cumberland Blues," followed by "Gone Wanderin’," "Rock n Roll Blues," and "Minglewood Blues." Up to this point the set was played impeccably but without luster – it was good but not great.  After the Allman Brothers’ performance, and with what seemed to be a B-list setlist, the energy in the amphitheatre was not nearly as high as it was when the former Grateful Dead member and his all stars hit the Verizon stage.

The set continued much the same but was highlighted when they busted into "Uncle John’s Band," into a tasty jam, then directly into "Dark Star > So Many Roads " and back into "Dark Star."  This series of Grateful Dead goodness woke the lethargic Verizon crowd and set the crowd’s sights for a strong finish.  Phil & Friends completed their 100-minute set with an uninteresting "In The Midnight Hour," but pulled out a "Cosmic Charlie" encore that forced the crowd to exit the venue with grins from ear to ear.  Smiles were abundant.

Phil & Friends were overshadowed by the all star-packed performance by The Allman Brothers.  On any other evening this may have been an A-/B+ Friends show but when it came down to it, the jam during "Whipping Post" is what people are going to remember

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