Concert review: Allman Brothers Band fuse history with musical mastery at Madison Square Garden celebration

The Allman Brothers Band celebrated 50 years with a show at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 2020.

After more than three hours of music – and not swift pop tunes, but intricate jams and complicated rhythms – it was apparent that playing in The Allman Brothers Band is as much about athletic endurance as skill.

At Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, The Brothers, as they were dubbed for this show, celebrated the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest musical legacies of Southern rock - much of it born in Macon. Also significant: this was the first Allman Brothers Band concert since the 2017 deaths of Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman.

With a lineup featuring original drummer Jaimoe, as well as longtime ABB guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, bassist Oteil Burbridge and percussionist Marc Quinones, this is an outfit expected to be taut. Add the demanding drumming of Widespread Panic’s Duane Trucks (Butch’s nephew), notable keyboard and organ from Reese Wynans and prominent piano from former ABB keyboardist, Macon’s Chuck Leavell, and the result was a once-in-a-lifetime gathering that left fans elated.

Nary was an empty seat sighted at MSG, as devotees expunged thoughts of coronavirus for a few hours of communal musical bliss.

This undated photo shows members of the Allman Brothers Band, from left, Dickey Betts, Duane Allman, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks, Gregg Allman and Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson, eating at the H&H Restaurant in downtown Macon. (The Macon Telegraph via AP, File)
This undated photo shows members of the Allman Brothers Band, from left, Dickey Betts, Duane Allman, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks, Gregg Allman and Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson, eating at the H&H Restaurant in downtown Macon. (The Macon Telegraph via AP, File)

The band opened, appropriately, with the double shot of “Don’t Want You No More” and “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” the leadoff tracks on ABB’s 1969 self-titled debut album.

Haynes handled lead vocals, aping Gregg’s muscular and scraggly tones, while the triple percussion attack from Duane, Quinones and Jaimoe – content to leave the heavy lifting to his younger sticksmates – powered the majority of the two-set, 24-song show.

ABB hit the “Statesboro Blues” early in the show, with Haynes doling out squealing lead guitar and Wynans’ left hand and left foot poking the keys and ground in unison. Burbridge, the steady undercurrent, bobbed on his bare feet as he unpretentiously anchored every song.

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Following the sinewy groove of “Revival,” Haynes spoke for the first time - 20 minutes into the show – to offer a simple thank you. There wouldn’t be much more elaborating as the band wound into its second set. After all, this was a concert to commemorate the heritage of a catalog that thrived on robust blues-rock musicality and instrumentals, and those that were performed unfurled with perfection.

The winding guitar and tricky time signatures of “Hot ‘Lanta” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” (whose headstone is still visible at Rose Hill Cemetery) were the flawless work of musicians who have played these notes countless times. But it was the second set opener – a 20-minute “Mountain Jam” – that formed a definitive ABB moment on this night.

Derek Trucks, his soul so integral to the band and his playing indefinably magnificent, utilized Duane Allman's treasured 1957 Les Paul goldtop during the song (yes, the one sold for $1.25 million at auction last year), its distinctive whine an instant reminder of Duane's spirit.

Although the band performed on a sparse stage – a lighted mushroom offering blobby psychedelic images loomed overhead and the two small video screens flanking the stage stopped working before the end of the first set – the spectacular lighting and incendiary guitar work from Derek provided enough stimulants.

Frenzied yellow and red lights accompanied “Don’t Keep Me Wondering,” while a pastel rainbow complemented “Jessica,” itself a musical masterwork filled with airtight stops and the type of licks-trading between Derek and Warren that make guitarists grateful for calluses.

About halfway through the first set, Leavell arrived, looking cool as always in black and red, and slid behind a baby grand piano for “Come and Go Blues.” He led the band through the gospel-inflected melodies of “Soulshine,” and, during the second set, provided the lead vocals on “Blue Sky” (sung on record by Dickey Betts), ending with a humble smile and nod.

Other highlights during the show were plentiful: Haynes’ voice soared and he and Leavell turned out respective head-spinning solos during “Desdemona”; Quinones’ and Duane’s precise percussion propelled “Every Hungry Woman”; and encores of “Midnight Rider” and “Whipping Post” provided casual fans with singalong moments.

But when Haynes strapped on an acoustic guitar, it could only signal “Melissa.” The wistful song is one of ABB’s simplest and most beautiful on its surface, but Derek’s sublime electric guitar behind Haynes was tear-inducing in its potency.

No doubt, the specialness of the MSG show can’t be overstated. But still, fans will wonder if this was really the last time ABB would perform a major concert or was it also a trial run to gauge reception and chemistry for another residency at The Beacon Theatre?

And if this wasn't the end, consider this a request for a Georgia location next time.

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