Thursday, April 22, 2021

Pink Floyd's Triumphant Return To Knebworth Like You've Never Heard It Before

By the summer of 1990, Pink Floyd was coming off a year's hiatus, and had spent most of the 1980's in courts battling with estranged bandmate Roger Waters over the rights to the Pink Floyd name. But the allure of performing at the famed Knebeworth Festival brought David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason together again, to be the crown jewel of the 26th edition. The day-long festival was by no means devoid of star power, with rock royalty performing throughout the course of the day. Eric Clapton, Elton John, Robert Plant (with special guest Jimmy Page), and Paul McCartney all took the stage; but Floyd without doubt ruled the day.

Unbeknownst to the 100,000+ attendees, Gilmour, Wright, Mason & Co. took the stage following a near fist fight between band manager Steve O'Rourke and McCartney's manager, Richard Ogden, over whose act would close the day. Floyd won out, and despite progressively worsening rain, delivered a 55-minute, 7-song set that is nothing short of flawless. The consummate professional, Gilmour shows no signs of being bothered by the arguments taking place in the wings. He opens the set by delivering the pristine and perfectly paced introduction to Shine On You Crazy Diamond, cutting through the raindrops, and reminding us once again that he is the master of touch, phrasing and tone.  After eleven brilliant minutes, Great Gig In The Sky follows, leaving singer Clare Torry with no warm-up time before being thrust into the soggy spotlight. Torry rises to the occasion, belting out a show-stopping take on the make-or-break vocal solo, matching (and perhaps raising) the bar set by Gilmour's guitar work before her. Gilmour reclaims center stage with a masterful take on the classic Wish You Were Here. Often an emotional experience, the guitarist's rain-soaked rendition presented here is no different, evoking audible cheers from the six-figure crowd at the opening strains of the song's trademark guitar part.

The instantly recognizable cash register and thundering bass lines of Dark Side of The Moon's Money signal the back half of the set. Bassist Guy Pratt and saxophonist Candy Dulfer take their turn in the limelight, with the latter earning a call-out by Gilmour before a masterful duet with the guitarist during the Floyd classic's breakdown section. Oddly enough, the classic rock staple is the one diversion from the typically by-the-book nature of a Pink Floyd set. Gilmour leads the ensemble through a handful of bars of a blues riff that is just out of place enough to throw off perhaps even the most experienced Floyd listener. Despite the fact that it isn't the closing song of the night, Comfortably Numb follows, further solidifying David Gilmour's standing as a six-string master. While the soaking wet conditions might have derailed even the most experienced guitarist, Gilmour is un-phased, delivering a combination of moving vocals and a razor sharp rendition of the iconic guitar solo.

Run Like Hell closes out the all-too-short set, though by that time, it is something of an afterthought. Regardless, Pink Floyd's re-emergence at Knebwroth House re-affirmed that even after 25 years since their outset, they were a force to be reckoned with. And with the glaring lack of proper, high-quality documentation of the majority of their touring life, it is fortunate that this triumphant return and magnificent performance was captured, and can finally, after 31 years, be heard as it was meant to be.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Allman Brothers Take Texas By Storm: Down In Texas '71

Historically speaking, it is all but impossible to view the Allman Brothers Band's newest archival release, Down In Texas '71, in the context of it's place in the legendary band's history: Recorded at the Austin Municipal Auditorium on September 28, 1971, the concert took place a month before guitarist Duane Allman's untimely and tragic passing. However, if you are able to wrestle your ears and mind out of that perspective of listening to the nine song set played that evening, you'll find it to be a fascinating document of a band that has just released it's third album, the iconic At Fillmore East, and is pushing it's limits as a unit musically, hinting at just what might have been in store for their future had Allman and bassist Berry Oakley not passed away.

While the setlist itself resembles the band's typical set at the time, it is, in true Allman Brothers fashion, both subtley and not-so-subtley different. The entire band hits the ground running, roaring through tried and true workhorses Statesboro Blues, Trouble No More and Done Somebody Wrong, before the elder Allman breaks the tension, cracking a joke at the fire marshal's expense. The trio of road-worn openers however, nearly hide the first of the gems that makes this release truly special: The presence of saxophonist Juicy Carter. Unlike his previously documented appearances with The Brothers, during the At Fillmore East weekend six months prior, Carter's playing 'fits' more often than it doesn't, displaying just how much the band (and perhaps Carter as well) had matured in such a relatively short period of time.

Carter's contributions (and improvements) are most noteable during the sadly incomplete instrumental masterpiece, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, which features impressive interplay between Allman, co-guitarist Dickey Betts and Carter. One-to-one it is a vast improvement over the same selection recorded six months prior, with Carter's contributions coming tastefully, rather than painfully. And impressively, the now-septet finds yet another gear on the following number, T-Bone Walker's Stormy Monday. Clocking in at nine minutes, it is a blues improv master class, with Gregg Allman joining in on the Hammond organ, and delivering his finest and most impassioned vocals of the evening.

The exploration is far from over, as the now fully-acclimated unit barrels into Willie Cobbs' You Don't Love Me. As per usually, it is a 15-minute full-tilt boogie, with Berry Oakley's bouncing bass line somehow finding a way to stand out from the crowd and drive the Allman Brothers freight train forward. That is until the half-way point, where for roughly a minute Duane leads his band through a darkly toned jam, unlike any previously heard in the interlude section of the oft-stretched out epic, before all seven musicians lock in and roar toward the finish line.

Amid and despite calls for 'F*&king Whipping Post', a scorching Hot 'Lanta closes out the set led by Carter and the guitarists, who are quite clearly, at this point, at home together in the music. The somewhat abrupt end to the recording serves only to snap the listener out of the musical time machine, and trigger a flood of the all-too-prevalent 'What if's' that, even with one's best efforts to hold them at bay, are inevitable when listening to 'Duane-era' live recordings. Alas, we must embrace them, and count ourselves lucky that moments such as this night in Austin were captured for us to enjoy.

The addition of thirteen minutes of interview with Berry and Duane provide a fantastic counterpoint to the music. The slightly warbly and occasionally sped up recording contains matter-of-fact conversation about the band's performances, Duane's other musical endeavors, and their next album. Along with giving the listener the rare opportunity to hear Berry Oakley speak, it also serves as a reminder that while musically, we regard the Allman Brothers Band, (specifically Berry and Duane) as deities, in reality they are simply young men who love each other and their music.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Did The Allman Brothers Deliver 'The Best Show You've Never Heard' In 2005? It's Here For You To Decide

When a band with as long and storied a history as The Allman Brothers Band releases a recording that the liner notes dub as "The  Best Show You've Never Heard", that's saying something - especially when it's archival release is paired with the final 49 minutes of Duane Allman's time with the band (released simulataneously as The Final Note). On the surface, and within the summer tour schedule from 2005, there's almost nothing that would indicate the quality of this performance: A Tuesday night in Erie, Pennsylvania hardly screams 'Must Have'. But dig a little deeper, and there's a lot to consider about this show, and this release, which, even without hearing the surrounding shows, make it a special night.

By 2005, the Allman Brothers were on top of their game. Their current lineup, led by the twin guitars of Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes were finishing their fourth summer together, and were an improvisational force to be reckoned with. And after spending the month of July playing back to back shows in a variety of venues and with and without opening acts, the band arrived in Erie with a day to rest and recharge, with a two-set 'Evening With' performance to look forward to. Warren Haynes' expertly crafted setlist for the evening provided a framework for which they could explore their catalog without all the time constraints that come with the aforementioned shows.

Haynes and Trucks grab the reins and hit the ground running right out of the gate, showcasing their now-cemented chemistry while leading the band through a spirited and fluid (as well as rare) set-opening Mountain Jam. Following the lengthy warmup, the spotlight turns to Gregg Allman, who leans into the Brother's staple Statesboro Blues with passion to match his dueling guitarist bandmates. The rest of the eight song opening set is a near perfect mixture of newer tracks, like the foot-stomping Firing Line from their most recent studio album, Hittin' The Note, and a romping late set Trouble No More, before Haynes and Trucks jump back in the driver's set and bring the first set in for a 9-minute landing by reprising Mountain Jam.

After an intermission, a much mellower set follows (further underlining the Haynes' brilliance as a setlist creator). Allman welcomes the sold out audience back to their seats with the classic Melissa, before slipping into a beautiful version of The Band's The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, featuring a magnicifent closing solo by Derek Trucks  In a set flush with brilliant guitar work, including a tremendous performance of the band's classic, Dreams, the crown jewel may just be the appearance of Susan Tedeschi, a full-fledged member of the Allman Brothers family by 2005, who lent her angelic voice to Bob Dylan's Don't Thing Twice, before turning things over to Haynes and Trucks for a trademark Jessica to close out the scheduled portion of this epic evening of music.

This archival release is near absolute proof that on any given Sunday (or Tuesday in this case) The Allman Brothers Band, in any iteration, but certainly their final one, were capable of delivering a show for the ages. Furthermore, it only leaves one to wonder what other hidden gems are waiting in the wings of the band's archives. For that, we will have to wait and see, but for now, this brilliant show of musicianship should hold us over for a little while.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Duane Allman's Bittersweet Final Notes Surface After Nearly 50 Years

 From time to time, recordings surface that document a landmark moment in the history of music. The Allman Brothers Band's newest archival release is one such recording. The Final Note captures the 'original six' Allman Brothers Band performing what would be their final performance together, on October 17, 1971 at Painters Mill Music Fair, in Owins Mill, Maryland.

When Duane Allman and his band took the stage that Sunday night to close out what was a country-crossing fall tour, no one in the room could have imagined that in just twelve days, the 24-year old slide guitar master would be gone. Luckily, a young radio station employee, Sam Idas, who was in the house that night to interview Gregg Allman, chose that moment in time to test his new tape recorder. And the 49 minutes he captured provides a definitive and bittersweet period to the 'Duane Era' of the Allman Brothers.

If the Allman Brothers Band were at all tired after their country-crossing fall tour, it would be near impossible to tell. The elder Allman is upbeat and jovial, 'promoting' roadie Tuffy Phillips' 'new album' and teasing the audience for being sleepy due to 'too many quaaludes' prior to 'Don't Keep Me Wonderin'', while he and his bandmates are as sharp as ever. The energetic 8-song recording features the band's customary set for the period, driven predominantly by the Brother's Allman, with Gregg and Duane taking the lead through a romping Statesboro Blues, to 'limber up', before rolling into Muddy Waters' thumping Trouble No More.

The band's energy reaches a peak with a particularly up-tempo and bouncy version of Sonny Boy Williamson's One Way Out, pushed along by Berry Oakley's thumping bass lines, that all but demand that the listener tap along with Oakley's booted heel. Long time friend of the band, saxophonist Juicy Carter, joins in next for a jazzy take on Dickey Betts' trademark instrumental In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. Unfortunately, most of this final take on Elizabeth Reed, is left to the imagination, lost to an inevitable tape flip.

What we're left with however, is but a taste of what was undoubtedly a brilliant interpretation in it's entirety, (and vastly improved over Carter's previously captured appearances on the tune, documented seven months earlier and released on 2014's expanded edition of The Fillmore East Recordings). Unlike each of the earlier versions, the six minutes captured on The Final Note offer a glimpse of the real potential of the song with the addition of a saxophone; Carter, Allman and Betts are playing much more in sync with the instrumental's themes, before the tape fades out just as Gregg Allman begins his organ solo.

A roaring Whipping Post closes out the night, introduced with foreboding words from Duane Allman, 'Some things you just have no control over'. Soaring over the rest of the band's foundation, Allman and Betts grab the reins and put the pedal down, delivering one final six-string duel, matching each other lick for lick for nearly 13 minutes before touching gently down to bring the Duane Era of The Allman Brothers Band to a triumphant and bittersweet end, punctuated with Duane's final recorded words on tape 'Thank you so much'.

In just twelve days, Allman would be gone, leaving the band that bore his name to find their way without him. The Final Note captures simultaneously the last performance of one of rock's greatest guitar players, and highlights just how much music he had left to give.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Supersonic Blues Machine: They Mean Business!

Texas guitar slinger Lance Lopez has assembled a who's who of blues and rock guitar players to flank him on West of Flushing, South of Frisco, the debut album by the aptly named Supersonic Blues Machine. Living legends Warren Haynes, Billy Gibbons, Robben Ford and Walter Trout join young guns Chris Duarte and Eric Gales to aid Lopez in crafting a briliantly pure and edgy blues album that is possibly the ultimate excercise in professionalism. Each of the rock and roll legends (and legends in training) stop by to lend a personal touch to their individual tracks that only they are capable of doing.

From the opening chords and lap steel strains of Miracle Man through the final notes of Watchagonnado, Supersonic Blues Machine's debut effort is rock solid - each track and each guest just different enough to keep things interesting, but equally cohesive.  Lopez and his crew start the party with the romping Miralce Man, and the up tempo driver, I Ain't Falling Again, properly laying the groundwork before inviting in the parade of all-stars and turning things up a notch (or two). 

Billy Gibbons is the first of the legends to step in, joining Lopez and Co. for Running Whiskey, a short ZZ Top-esque rocker that fits both Gibbons and the "house band" perfectly, complete with a signature solo from the veteran rocker to put the official stamp of The Reverend on it.  Haynes is up next, lending his signature vocals and guitar work to Remedy, a tasteful, beautifully penned tune about the power of music. Not to be outdone, Lopez steps up and matches Haynes lick for lick to close the track out.

If it's at all possible to warm up an album with the likes of Billy Gibbons and Warren Haynes, Lopez and his band have done so, blowing the roof off the joint, thundering through Bone Bucket Blues, a growling freight train blues number featuring dueling slide guitar and harmonica from Jimmy Zavala and a punishing back line from drummer Kenny Aronoff and bassist Fabrizio Grossi.

A slew of guests round out the album, including Lopez's fellow next-generation blues torchbearers Eric Gales and Chris Duatre and another pair of bonafide blues legends in Walter Trout and Robben Ford. All four turn in standout performances, ranging from Gales and Lopez teaming up for blues riff clinic on Nightmares and Dreams to the sweet, soulful pairing with Robben Ford on Let's Call It a Night

When it's all said and done, it's simple: If Lance Lopez's Live in NYC was his opening statement to the blues community, the Supersonic Blues Machine is proof that Lance means business.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Everybody Wants a Piece is The Blues at It's Purest

In an age when so much of the music is shallow, over-produced bubblegum pop, it's a rarity to find a pure blues album that doesn't have the name Buddy Guy or Eric Clapton on it. For Everybody Wants a Piece, Joe Louis Walker straps on a six-string, turns up, and blows out a blues album the way a blues album is supposed to be: Full of emotion, thick riffs, deep grooves and searing guitar licks.

Walker and his band come out swinging, laying down a pair of thundering guitar riffs on the album's title track, Everybody Wants a Piece and Do I Love Her, highlighted by some brilliant fretwork from Walker on the former, and punctuated by a series of equally impressive harmonica fills on the latter. Two tracks later, Walker digs deep, spinning a tale of saving a love affair that's falling apart that was made for a blues album on Black and Blue. Walker's heartfelt lyrics are matched by the wah, reverb and tear soaked guitar solo that brings the track's final minute to a close.

But Walker and Co. are just catching a groove and the guitar licks keep coming hot and heavy on Witchcraft and One Sunny Day, before slowing things down a bit and gathering around a church organ for Gospel Blues, then laying down a rendition of the old spiritual Wade in the Water that belongs at a tent revival.

A trio of vintage inspired tracks close things out, with Walker channeling his inner Otis Redding, Muddy Waters and Elmore James on Man of Many Words, Young Girls Blues and 35 Years Old, reminding us that even in the 21st Century, the godfathers of blues and soul are still as important and relevant as ever.

For this blues fan, Everybody Wants a Piece is a breath of fresh air. Joe Louis Walker's musicianship and dedication to his craft and his music is etched in this album from the first note to the last. It restores the faith that the blues are alive, well, and thriving and will continue to be as long as bluesmen like Walker keep picking up the guitar. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Lance Lopez: Foundation of the Next Generation of Bluesmen

It's a tall task to come on stage at the legendary BB King's Blues Club during Johnny Winter's birthday party and play the blues. Not only was Lance Lopez up to the task, he delivered a incendiary seven song set, full of heavy riff driven original blues rock songs that are chock full of energy.

Right out of the gate, Lopez hits the gas, with a hard driving 12-bar blues, Come Back Home, complete with a blistering solo which is only a small taste of things to come. The riffs are non-stop, with the meaty riffery of Hard Time and Get Out and Walk. Next, the gears shift and the band dusts off (and supercharges) the only cover song of the set, Robert Johnson's Traveling Riverside Blues. Lopez and his trio pound out the classic in their signature fashion, giving it a powerful treatment that I can only imagine would have even Johnson himself grinning.

The highlight of the set though, is undoubtedly Lowdown Ways, where Lopez eases off the overdrive and shows off his chops.  Over 11 minutes, Lopez delivers soulful vocals and a lethal combination of tasteful and blinding guitar licks that will leave you spellbound.  It would be unfair, however, to lay all the praise for the excellence of Live In NYC at Lance Lopez's feet. A blues trio is nothing without a solid rhythm section, and drummer Chris Reddan and bassist Mike Nunno provide a rock solid foundation from the word go, driving the riffs along, and giving Lopez a musical canvas on which to shine.

Short and powerful, Lance Lopez's Live In NYC is certainly a statement: With guitar slingers like him on the loose, the future of the blues is in good hands.