The Allmans at the Beacon, A Party Like No Other

The Allman Brothers Band
Beacon Theatre
New York, New York
March 12, 2009

Someone once said, “When throwing a party, being a good guest is just as important as being a good host.”  I forget who said it, Martha Stewart, or Rachel Ray, or one of those other home improvement mavens or maybe I just made it up. 

No matter, The Allman Brothers Band have been throwing their annual party at the Beacon Theatre in New York since 1989 (though they did have to cancel last year due to keyboardist Gregg Allman’s bout with Hepatitis C), and while ever year proves to be a special event, this year’s run has proven to be an extra special party as the band is celebrating their 40th Anniversary and have dedicated the run to late band founder guitarist Duane Allman (who died in 1971).  In celebration the Allmans have invited a number of special guests to their party to play with them during their run.

While some guests may prove to be to quiet, and some may prove to be a bit to loud, the guests that showed up for the third night of the run proved to be just about perfect.  First to join the party was legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy, who brought a whole new dimension to a cover of Elmore James “The Sky is Crying”.  He stayed on stage as the band worked through another blues classic with a cover of Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me.”  Guy proved to be the perfect foil for guitarist Derek Trucks, who seemingly keeps moving light years away from everyone else with his ever growing skills.

To close out the first set, two more guests came to the party, Phish’s guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardist Page McConnell emerged for a set-ending “Southbound”.  With four of the greatest living guitarists sharing the stage at one time (Trucks, Guy, Anastasio, and Warren Haynes) this proved to be the moment that took the show from great to legendary status.

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The song was highlighted by a solo from each of the guitarists as well as one by McConnell.  As Guy ripped off a blistering soul-searing solo that reminded all why he is the king of the Chicago blues and one of the baddest motherfuckers around, guitar-prodigy Trucks, who is the baddest motherfucker in waiting, stood slightly off to his right grinning from ear to ear at his idol.

Anastasio and McConnell returned to the stage to open the second set with a spirited version of “I Know You Rider.”  Fresh off of their comeback shows at the Hampton Coliseum less than a week before, both seemed refreshed and it showed.  McConnell was the more assertive of the two, perhaps still living up to his MVP title many bestowed upon him at Hampton.

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Anastasio seemed humbled to be playing with the Allmans, and instead played with a restrained touch, choosing to lay back and add bits of color to brighten the big picture.  But there was no denying the dynamic the two brought to the night’s version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”  Long an improvisational vehicle for the Allmans, the inclusion of McConnell and Anastasio helped push “Liz Reed” past the twenty-minute mark and set the stage for the rest of the night – a jam heavy set that followed “I Know You Rider” and “Liz Reed” with an exploratory “Dreams” and a glorious “Jessica” that proved true what keyboardist Allman once said: “We’re not one of those jambands, we are a band that jams.”  And jam they did through the four-song, nearly ninety-minute second set that featured some of the most inspired playing of the night.

But for any party to be a success, no matter how great the guests are, you have to have a good host, and the Allman Brothers Band have been complexly gracious hosts, stepping back at times and allowing their guests to shine, but laying down enough thunder to remind everyone who is throwing the party.

Allman in particular seemed particular energized this evening.  Hitting the stage (after an opening rendition of “Little Martha” by Trucks and Haynes) with his hair free from his trademark ponytail (who can remember the last time they saw that?), Allman was a man possessed, tearing his heart out with the blues through impassioned versions of “Trouble No More,” “Leave My Blues at Home,” and a “Black-Hearted Woman” that evolved into a mind-melting solo by Trucks that was based around the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One.”

The Allman Brothers Band run at the Beacon proved to be a fitting celebration of their forty years together and a fitting way to honor the man who helped start it all for them so long ago, Duane Allman.  Each show has been a look into the past and heart of the band, while at the same time a glimpse into where they are heading as they start next chapter of their long career.

As the band closed out the night with the song, “Statesboro Blues”, Duane first learned to play slide guitar on so long ago, one could just imagine the young guitarist, with the big Fu Manchu mustache and long stringy hair, who died way too young, looking down at what he helped start forty years ago, and smiling.

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