Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Allman Joy

It recently only took a very brief stay in the Bronx for my Mazda to be relieved of its antenna. With my radio now neutered and spayed, I had to resort to the long neglected CD’s that have taken up permanent residence in my glove compartment.

This morning I was pleased to find these two live CD’s – The Allman Brothers Band, First Set and 2nd Set (thanks to ssshmaly for group photo above).

Since the early 1990’s, this band (one of the survivors from the late 60’s) has existed solely to continue their geriatric live performances. I have seen them three times. The first time was the summer of 1994 at Mud Island Amphitheatre in Memphis, TN. Great show - the duration of which I found myself shirtless and Icehouse-ed. The second time I saw them was Spring of 1995 at Radio City. I had strep throat and a fever. The third time I saw them was for one of their annual shows at the Beacon Theatre in New York City 1996.

The Allman Brothers are the perfect merger of blues, country, soul and R&B. Whereas Lynyrd Skynyrd (and other such folk) venture too far into the trailer park of rock-n-roll, the Allmans have always established that, although they are country boys, they are equally rooted in Miles Davis as they are Muddy Waters or Sonny Boy Williamson. There has always been a moody contemplative element to their music that has made them unique and has anchored my adoration.

I often wonder what would have happened had Duane Allman not died in 1971. I've mentioned him before on The Shelf. This question ranks up there with the many impossible questions that keep me awake at night (could America have been saved if Bobby Kennedy had lived?). Duane’s guitar work was beyond comparison and I don’t think this band ever got passed his loss. That said, Warren Haynes has been his fill in for their modern era and the man is an unfathomably good guitar player.

But thinking back to that third show I caught at the Beacon - it was weird. The crowd I recalled from my first Allmans show in Memphis were essentially drunk shit-kicking rednecks – good fun. But the crowd at the Beacon in ’96 – it seemed overrun with what I uncreatively label 'the Deadhead lot'. The place was floor to ceiling packed with tie-die suburban hippies, obliviously doing that weird gyrating hippie-shuffle I find so annoying.

Now I’ve just plain ol' never been able to get into the Grateful Dead. I’m sorry - I know I just don’t get it. And as a card carrying liberal who’d graduated from a secular northeastern college, I fully realize that I should have a whole host of Grateful Dead credentials, but I don’t. I’m sorry.

Furthermore, I have to say that I get a little kvetched when people lump the Allmans and the Dead into the same category. Granted, I know the Allman Brothers, like The Grateful Dead, are known for long jamming, somewhat meandering songs, but I really find a stark contrast between the two bands. Whereas The Dead seem to exist solely to be trippy, the Allmans are working a deeply meditative and soulful narrative. The Grateful Dead just have always sounded like they're rehearsing one long song that lasts for four decades. Sorry.

For the melancholic beauty of The Allman Brothers Band, I recommend these songs:

Whipping Post
In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
Please Call Home
Ain’t Wasting Time No More
Not my Cross to Bear

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