March 10, 2020/Madison Square Garden/New York, NY-CD/DVD/Blu-ray
4 out of 5 stars
No one stayed up late finding a snappy name for this live tribute/reunion of The Allman Brothers Band members on this pre-pandemic one-night stand at the titular venue.
Liner notes from Allman Brothers Band scholar John P. Lynskey explain that the idea for this special gig was hatched by ABB drummer Jaimoe, one of two guys from the initial six-piece outfit still standing. He called the other four musicians from the band’s final lineup, which ran from 2001 through 2014 (interestingly, the longest any has lasted in their 45-year history), suggesting they close down the extensive Brothers’ history with one last 50th-anniversary hurrah. The result is this 3 ½ hour extravaganza recorded a few days before the world stopped turning, at least for large-scale concerts.
ABB veterans bassist Oteil Burbridge, guitarists Warren Haynes (he also covers all vocals) and Derek Trucks, percussionist Marc Quinones and Jaimoe are on board. Veteran keyboardist Reese Wynans is hired to cover Gregg’s organ parts, Derek’s brother Duane Trucks fills in for his deceased uncle Butch on drums, and former member Chuck Leavell joins for about half the show on piano. Conspicuous in his absence is original guitarist Dickie Betts who has well-documented health problems. Still, it’s odd that no one so much as mentions his name, especially since some of the tunes played like “Blue Sky” and “Jessica” were written by him. Strangely, or maybe not, the group’s biggest radio hit, Betts’ “Ramblin’ Man” does not appear.
Despite this glaring omission, the concert is a rip-roaring trawl through the Allman’s catalog, appropriately starting with the bluesy opening track, “Don’t Want You No More/It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” from their 1969 debut and closing over three and a half hours later with “Whipping Post,” the outfit’s signature song.
The 24 selections cover most of the bases you’d expect and often expand the songs with improvisational workouts. That’s particularly the case for the second set that kicks off with 20 minutes of “Mountain Jam,” shifts into another 15 for “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” works in 12 minutes of “Desdemona” and ends with 16 more of “Whipping Post.” That’s in addition to the first part of the show’s 13 minutes of “Dreams” and another 13 minutes for “Jessica.” Everyone plays well, but even though Haynes’ gruff vocals substitute reasonably well for Gregg’s, he lacks much of the latter’s emotional blue-eyed soul. Organist Wynans fills the bill on organ, yet when Leavell enters about ¾ into the first portion, his class and talents substantially increase the level of listenability, although he is often too low in the mix.
While everything is well played, there are segments when the music breathes and others where it doesn’t, usually due to everyone playing simultaneously. Oddly, Jaimoe, who was responsible for putting this together, seems tired and/or lost for most of the evening. There are even times when he stops drumming entirely. Perhaps it’s his 76 years catching up with him.
As for the DVD/Blu-ray’s visual element, the stage is over-lit to the point of exhaustion. It’s as if the lighting company got paid for each fixture because dozens of generally hyperactive lights are flashing and strobing at rates that would give anyone sensitive enough a seizure. A strange-looking fixture above the stage likely meant to be a mushroom but looking more like a pregnant turkey, adds psychedelic swirling colors to the already caffeinated lights. It’s intended to enhance the music but often distracts from it.
Considering the historical significance of the event, between-song chatter about the ABB’s complex history is MIA. Jaimoe and Haynes take a minute to thank everyone for coming yet there is a hole to be filled connecting the dots on this seemingly final performance of these songs by this lineup. The editors of the DVD splice in pictures of those once a part of the band who have passed on as “No One to Run With” is played, but those are added in post-production. Generally, there is an awkward disconnect between the musicians and the crowd. It’s as if this is just another gig, albeit a really long one.
Whether you spring for the four-CD set or the beautifully shot, high definition video component, fans will realize this is no Fillmore East gig. Regardless, those who need closure for one of the indisputably great acts in American music will find plenty to love here even if absorbing the music in smaller pieces is the best way to enjoy it.
Photo by Kirk West/Kirk West Photography