By Michael Lello
Photos by Jason Riedmiller
SCRANTON – The Allman Brothers have had a contentious history, with members quitting, getting fired and, sadly, even dying, as well as several full-blown band breakups. So the news earlier this year that the band would retire, then that it wouldn’t, then that it would, means it’s anybody’s guess what will happen after next March’s annual run of shows at the Beacon Theater in New York.
This was the context – the end, we guess – as the ABB took the stage Sunday night to close out Peach Festival, the three-years-running, weekend-long shindig put on by the Allmans and concert promoter Live Nation at The Pavilion at Montage.
There was nothing indecisive about the 7-piece group’s scintillating set Sunday night, however. From the opening grooves of “Don’t Want You Know More” to the rumble of the “Whipping Post” encore, the Brothers delivered the goods, especially when you consider the tepid performance the band presented Saturday evening.
Walking out in the late afternoon sun, it looked more like a sound check than a concert, but it sounded like the real deal, as the funk/swing instrumental workout of “Don’t Want…” led to its counterpart “Ain’t My Cross To Bear.” You know those big blues riffs are coming before the former ends and the latter begins, but it never fails to thrill. Derek Trucks switched to an acoustic guitar for “Midnight Rider.”
The classic instrumental “Hot ’Lanta” found Allman playing a rollicking organ solo over Oteil Burbridge’s driving bass; drummer Butch Trucks, playing with fire and showing lots of enthusiastic body language both nights, stepped away from his drum kit to play a timpani crescendo.
The new Warren Haynes song “Dusk Till Dawn” was well-received, as was “Leave My Blues At Home,” but the energy level went up several levels when legendary bluesman (and Peach performer) Taj Mahal took the stage for “Statesboro Blues.” He immediately commanded the stage with a gregarious presence, trading vocals back and forth with Allman, who seemed invigorated by the guest, and blowing a harmonica solo. The always-fun “Soulshine,” with Ron Holloway on saxophone, was a pleasant listen.
The guest parade continued on the Haynes-sung “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” with composer Gabor Presser, who sat win with Haynes’ Gov’t Mule the day before, sharing keyboard duties with Allman, and a guest saxophone player (it was difficult to hear his name when Haynes announced it). “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” was short and sweet, with Pete Levin, from Allman’s own band, on piano; he remained for “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” adding crystalline piano runs to the darkly beautiful Dickey Betts instrumental tour de force. Derek Trucks played one of his trademark slide solos, with the entire band catching fire. Levin plinked out an emphatic piano solo, and Haynes played a simple, repetitive riff, building the intensity before letting fly some bombastic lead lines, fanning his guitar strings.
During “Liz Reed,” most of the band left the stage, leaving only Butch Trucks, fellow drummer Jaimoe and percussionist Marc Quinones, as well as Burbridge. Burbridge took over Trucks’ drum set while Trucks played timpani; Quinones held down the beat with a tribal bongo beat, before Burbridge exited and Trucks returned to his kit. The rest of the band reemerged to bring “Liz Reed” to its conclusion.
The familiar Bo Diddley beat signaled the beginning of “No One Left To Run With,” a crowd favorite, and rightfully so, with its infections rhythm, Allman’s heartfelt lyrics and Haynes and Derek Trucks’ crunching guitars. Images of late Allman members Duane Allman, Berry Oakley and Allen Woody on the video screen accompanied the song about an aging bad boy losing his old running partners one by one.
Roughly two hours after taking the stage, the ABB came back out to rapturous applause and a near-capacity crowd, before Burbridge plucked out the sinister opening notes of “Whipping Post.” Even a standard version of “Whipping Post” is a concert highlight, but this one had some extra fire, with a ferocious bridge that had to take all of the energy the band could muster after two days of performances. It was a fitting end to what very well might be the Allman Brothers Band’s Northeastern Pa. swan song – and one of the last few shows it will ever play overall. If this is how they leave things, they can walk away with their heads held high.