Five and a half years after The Allman Brothers Band played its final concert at New York City’s Beacon Theater, the surviving members, minus the long-retired Dickey Betts, regrouped as The Brothers. This three CD set captures the huge, 50th anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden in crisp, clear sound.
What turned out to be the last major concert in America featured a band well-rehearsed and locked tightly by uncommon proficiency, conviction and elation. The Brothers lit up all 18,000 fans as soon as they struck their first notes.
Founding drummer Jaimoe flickered over his kit next to Widespread Panic’s Duane Trucks, who hit the skins assuredly in place of his late uncle Butch Trucks. Marc Quinones filled out the percussion line with Latin finesse. Bassist Oteil Burbridge stirred the bottom with no less power and perhaps more fluidity than Berry Oakley did five decades prior, and Reese Wynans, of Stevie Ray Vaughan fame — who nearly joined the Brothers at the beginning — was in heaven, and heavenly, filling Gregg Allman’s huge void on organ.
As a special treat, Chuck Leavell, now of the Rolling Stones but a Brother in the early 1970s, played grand piano for the middle third of the show. Guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks commanded center stage naturally, leading this incredible aggregation of musicians through a 24-song extravaganza that swung the blues and showcased a cascade of other innovative songs seeded in the blues, hardened by rock, and rounded with jazz.
Haynes bravely sang 18 songs that Gregg Allman made famous, alluding at times to Allman’s growling blues intonations, but always with his own very soulful animation. That an audio/visual was projected of Mr. Allman singing the opening lyrics of his pained “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” at that outset, before Haynes chimed in, was a brilliant honor. Their voices blended nearly indecipherably, setting a welcome tone for the next 3 ½ hours.
The set list and pacing were flawless. After a definitive, rousing Allman Brothers take on Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues,” the celebration rose up further on Betts’ “Revival,” perhaps the most appropriate song to classify this show. Of the five instrumental opuses played, the band’s rumbling “Mountain Jam” towered high, Leavell having come off his signature turns in the equally majestic “Jessica” with yet more glistening expression.
As much as the glowing spirits of guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts were floating close to them, Trucks and Haynes bent and blended blue notes within their own astonishingly broad spectrums. What seemed on the surface to be hot knives thrown back and forth with abandon between them during Elmore James’ “One Way Out,” for instance, were actually many intricately conceived lines of blistering musical communication. Throughout Gregg Allman’s timeless “Come and Go Blues,” and Haynes’ own classic “Soulshine,” their glorious harmony together couldn’t have been more emotionally riveting.
The Brothers in Heaven had to have been grinning ear to ear as The Brothers down here breathed such energetic life into this incredible legacy of music, one more time.
March 10th, 2020 / Madison Square Garden / New York, N.Y.