When I finally made it uptown to the Beacon for one of the Allman Brothers Band’s 40th anniversary shows, I had already heard about what’d been going on up there. Visits by Boz Scaggs, Levon Helm, Eric Clapton, Southside Johnny, etc. And there were rumors of Bob Weir and Phil Lesh showing up for some sans-Jerry-&-Duane tributeish jamming (that didn’t happen until the last night of the run). So my plus-one and I settled into our seats on stage right (about 15 feet behind Gregg) for what turned out to be a night of vintage Dixie Rock on the Upper West Side.
I go back with the ABB a long, long time. Bill Graham put them on the bill at the Fillmore East a LOT, and my friends and I would take the subway journey down from the Bronx for the late shows. Which often became very late indeed. I was in the theatre the night (2/11/70) The Dead and The Allmans shared the bill (along with Love), and at the end of the Dead’s late set, most of the Allmans, along with some of the guys from Fleetwood Mac (including Peter Green) joined the Dead for some spacey “Dark Star” and a version of “Turn On Your Lovelight” that went on for more than a half-hour. When we left the Fillmore, snow was falling and the sun was rising and we got back to the Bronx long after 7:00 am.
I’ve never seen a guitarist better than Duane. He could make the longest improvisation seem thought-out, tasteful and soulful; he could whip out short, precise phrases (that seven-note fanfare that starts off “Layla” is his) or take solos on winding roads, and no matter how many times you heard the ABB play the same songs (they didn’t have the most vast repertoire in ’70-’71), the shows never became repetitive.
The ABB have a vast repertoire now, and over the course of the March shows at the Beacon they played over 100 different songs. On Friday night, the night I went, Jimmy Hall from Wet Willie sat in on “The Sky Is Crying,” “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” and “Keep On Smilin.” Then Kid Rock came on for a couple of tunes, including the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.” And after the intermission, the band started the second set with an abbreviated (and quite moving, I have to admit) “Freebird.”
So a short history of Southern Rock, and Gregg was in good voice, and if Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks aren’t the equal of Dickey and Duane, they are too close to make a damn’s worth of difference.
It was only midnight when I hailed a cab on Broadway (the days of getting home at 7:00 am are way behind me), and the band was still wrapping up “Southbound,” with another night to play.