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.