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Music DVD Review: The Allman Brothers Band – Live At The Beacon Theatre

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In March of 2003, the legendary Allman Brothers Band played their annual string of concerts at New York City's Beacon Theatre, now known simply as "the Beacon run", and they filmed two of those shows for this DVD. The band was touring in support of their latest album, Hittin' The Note, their first new studio album in over nine years, and also their first without founding, guitarist, singer, and songwriter Dickey Betts. How good could it be, right? Well, with the help of Warren Haynes, who has been lending his incredible guitar, vocal, and songwriting talents to the band since 1989, along with new slide guitar phenomenon Derek Trucks, the nephew of founding drummer Butch Trucks, this is some of the best music the ABB has turned out in over two decades.

Live At The Beacon Theatre was recorded on March 25th and 26th, 2003, and captures this current lineup really beginning to hit their stride. Founding member and bandleader Greg Allman has been sober since the mid-90s, and his vocals are starting to show signs of the strength and passion it once had. The guitar duo of Haynes and Trucks is one of the best going, and they nearly rival the band's original super duo of Betts, and the late Duane Allman. The incredible chemistry that was exhibited between the latter duo, on such classics as At Fillmore East, is not quite there yet, but you will see it developing nicely here.

The 22-song setlist is a good mix of new and old, anchored by a healthy dose of seven songs from the new Hittin' The Note album, and then going all the way back to their debut album for three songs. Along with all of the classics that come in between, two previously unreleased songs, "Change Is Gonna Come", and "Worried Down With The Blues", were also showcased. The show kicks off with the somewhat laid-back Eat A Peach classic "Ain't Wastin' Time No More", which immediately introduces you to the unique tone of Truck's slide guitar, and gives the band some time to stretch out and get warmed up.

The stage set up is rather unremarkable, balanced by two full drum kits and a wall of percussion that drapes the back of the stage. The light and video show is very retro psychedelic – reminiscent of the old Fillmore shows. It all compliments the music perfectly. By the end of the second song, "Black Hearted Woman", which takes you all the way back to their 1969 debut album, simply titled The Allman Brothers Band, the band is firing on all cylinders – just in time for the next song, the incredible "Statesboro Blues". By now, you realize that Haynes and Trucks were born to be Allman Brothers. Their playing is transcendent.

At this point I can't help but recall a hilarious story told by Zakk Wylde in a recent Guitar World magazine interview, where he talks about filling in for Dickey Betts in 1993 for a show at Great Woods. Wylde describes how, during rehearsals, Greg Allman came over to him, and in his slow, southern drawl asks, "Yo, Zakk brother, you know how to play fucking 'Dreams' bro?" Wylde wryly answered with "Oh, the Molly Hatchet song?" Allman responded with "Man, another comment like that and we're gonna have to send you back home." According to Wylde, "They HATE Molly Hatchet." Too bad, I love Molly Hatchet's first two albums, and I have to admit, I like their version of "Dreams" better than the Allman's – although they really tear it up live on this DVD.

Most of the old classics are performed here, including "Statesboro Blues", "Midnight Rider", "Melissa", and "Whipping Post", but all of the great Betts' songs, such as "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed", "Ramblin' Man", and "Jessica" were noticeably missing. Haynes' songwriting skills have kept the band from simply carrying on as a tribute to themselves, to being a creative force for potentially several more years to come. Check out his work with his own band, Gov't Mule, to see what I mean. His song "Soulshine" was one of the highlights of the ABB's Where It All Begins album of 1994, and it is one of the highlight performances of this concert.

Haynes also co-wrote all of the new songs on Hittin' The Note, and also sings a few of them. One of those songs, the muscular, blues-rock anthem, "Rockin' Horse", was the early highlight of the show. Haynes also sang lead on a remarkable, 11-minute performance of the old Willie Dixon number, "The Same Thing", which featured a three piece horn section, and showcased some incredible funky bass playing from the relative new brother, Oteil Burbridge, who took over for Allen Woody in 1997, when he and Haynes left to concentrate full time on Gov't Mule. Woody died in 2000, and Haynes obviously rejoined the ABB the same year, and now pulls double duty with both bands.

Although Greg Allman is now healthy and sober, and his vocals are showing signs of recovering some of their past glory, his singing is still a mere shadow of its past. Ballads such as "Melissa" and the newer "Desmedona" exposed the diminished depth and strength of his vocals, and on more rockin' numbers, like "Whippin' Post", he sounds downright restrained compared to some of his powerful past performances. Even so, "Whippin' Post" brought the set to an incredible close, with both drummers and the percussionist firing on all cylinders, and Haynes and Trucks trading ferocious guitar licks for 11 minutes straight. This was one of the best jams I have seen in a while.

After sweating it out for more than two and one-half hours already, the brothers returned to the stage one more time for an encore performance of the enduring classic "One Way Out". You are not a real "jam band", or as Greg Allman prefers it, "a band that jams", unless you play for at least three hours right? This great performance provided the perfect sendoff to all of the faithful ABB fans in attendance at the Beacon that night.

There is not much to complain about with the production quality of this DVD. The picture is not the sharpest I have seen, and it is only presented in full frame, instead of widescreen, but you can really get a sense of being in the crowd. Audio was presented in three flavors; Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo, and DTS surround. After sampling the Dolby tracks, I stuck with the DTS mix and it sounded very strong. There was a lot of different sounds being thrown around onstage, especially with two drum kits and a ton of percussion fighting to be heard, but each of the instruments stood out well in the mix and never sounded cluttered. The camera work was generally good, but the angle changes came too quickly at times. On the plus side, the shows were shot in a way to make you sometimes feel like you are onstage with the band, and other times like you are kicking back in the middle of the crowd.

The highlight of the bonus features had to be the stunning backstage performance of "Old Friends". Haynes and Trucks sit down in one of the backstage dressing rooms with a couple of acoustic guitars and some bottle-neck slides and proceed to tear through an incredibly poignant performance of this killer blues ballad from the new Hittin' The Note album. Haynes' vocals really shine on this one.

Equally impressive is the fascinating, 76-minute band interview, which provides some excellent insight into the current state of the band, and all of the problems they have endured in the recent past. Most of the band's recent turmoil appears to be attributed to Betts, without anyone actually coming right out and saying it. Allman talks about it being "totally a group effort this time… no dark clouds hanging over the place… no bullies… nothing but good times and good music." Good music indeed!

Set List
01. Ain't Wastin' Time No More
02. Black Hearted Woman
03. Statesboro Blues
04. Woman Across The River
05. Change Is Gonna Come

06. Maydell
07. Come & Go Blues
08. Rockin' Horse
09. Desdemona
10. Don't Keep Me Wondering
11. Midnight Rider
12. Soulshine
13. High Cost Of Low Living
14. Leave My Blues At Home
15. Old Before My Time
16. The Same Thing
17. Melissa
18. Instrumental Illness
19. Worried Down With The Blues
20. Dreams
21. Whippin' Post
22. One Way Out

Performance 8/10
Production 8/10

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