in performance: gregg allman

gregg allman.

gregg allman.

The distance between a storied past and a credible, vital present has always made for hard traveling in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. The bigger and more removed the history, the tougher it becomes to have a modern day audience – even if it draws heavily from the generation that championed the artist in question in the first place – to accept any serious revision.

That was the quandary Gregg Allman was in tonight during a sold out performance at the Opera House. With the famed Allman Brothers Band (the groundbreaking Southern blues, boogie and jam brigade he helped front on and off for 45 years) now permanently defunct, the singer has turned to a revue-style ensemble to both honor his past and adjust to a more streamlined here and now. It was a daring mission that yielded only a marginal victory.

First, there was the most inspiring part of the show. At 68, with an epic bout of rock star excess behind him, Allman was in remarkably strong voice. He coated vintage tunes like the ABB’s Black Hearted Woman and his ‘80s solo hit I’m No Angel with an effortlessly bluesy drawl seemingly unblemished by age while serving ballads like Sweet Melissa with a quieter, soulful glow.

Musically, the performance took some getting use to. The ABB classics that opened and closed the show – Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ and Whipping Post – sounded curiously sanitized. It wasn’t just the more moderate pace the songs were taken at compared to their recorded versions from 1970 and 1969, respectively, or the way the tunes were tempered by a horn section. The inherent urgency within both songs, and in much of the vintage material, was just gone. In its place was a sound altogether sunnier, safer and emptier.

Unfortunately, the tunes played more faithfully to their album blueprints revealed greater creative deficiencies within the band. Dreams strutted along with the same easygoing, jazz-like groove that has long propelled the song over the decades. But as it evolved into a lengthy jam, no one seemed able to breathe any serious definition or distinction into their solos. This was especially true of guitarist Scott Sharrard, who spent much of the evening caught between imitations of Duane Allman (especially in his slide playing) and Dickey Betts, the ABB’s founding guitarists.

Everyone had chops to spare, especially the only holdover from the ABB other than brother Gregg himself, percussionist Marc Quinones. But outside of a lively take of the instrumental Hot ‘Lanta, the only tune where Allman’s organ playing didn’t fade completely into the woodwork, the ensemble found little vigor in the older material and zero invention in any of the newer arrangements. When Allman left the stage midway through the set to let the band jam on its own, the performance collapsed completely into an array of faceless riffs, solos and funk exchanges.

It should be noted, the capacity crowd enjoyed the music thoroughly, seemingly spellbound by the show’s undeniable nostalgic sway. That’s fine, as far as it went. It just seemed a shame that a still capable artist like Allman, an obviously proficient band and a truly remarkable back catalogue couldn’t have found a more knowing, intuitive or original way to make the resulting music sparkle more genuinely for a present day crowd so eager to embrace it.



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