On March 11th, the Allman Brothers Band open their annual spring residency in New York City, moving uptown from their traditional haunt, the Beacon Theatre — currently held hostage by a new Cirque de Soleil production — for 13 shows at Harlem's United Palace Theater. That leaves you plenty of time to relive every note of last year's 15 Beacon concerts, which have been released in a deluxe box set of 45 CDs through the Allmans' Website, Hittin' The Note. The 2009 Beacon Box comes in a hefty wood case with a glossy booklet, souvenir backstage passes and a two-CD bonus show from December 2008. The price is $499.99 (about 10 bucks a disc); the 2009 Beacon concerts are also available separately for $27 each.
The Allmans' 2009 Beacon season was a 40th anniversary celebration of the band's founding in 1969 by the late guitarist Duane Allman and the release that year of the group's debut album on Capricorn Records, The Allman Brothers Band. They performed the entire thing, in sequence, on March 26th, the original release date. There were guest appearances on all of the other nights by all-star friends and fellow travelers, from Taj Mahal, Johnny Winter and Z.Z. Top's Billy Gibbons to Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell of Phish, the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and Phil Lesh and, on March 19th and 20th, Eric Clapton in his first-ever performances with the Allmans.
"The way you could tell it was different," Allmans guitarist Derek Trucks says of the 2009 concerts, "is that at the end of every Beacon run, on the twelfth or thirteenth night, you can feel the guys want to go home. Gregg's a little wore out. But at the last show of that run, Gregg was like, 'Shit, I can do 10 more like this.' "
Many guests had personal histories with the Allman Brothers. Duane played on Clapton's 1970 Derek and the Dominos album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The Dead and the Allmans shared bills and stages in the early Seventies, including the 1973 Watkins Glen festival. Trucks cites the March 16th show with singer Bonnie Bramlett — Duane played with her on Delaney and Bonnie records, including the 1971 acoustic session, Motel Shot — and the March 17th appearance of early Capricorn labelmates Scott Boyer and Tommy Talton from the country-rock band Cowboy. "They were great," Trucks says of those nights, "because there was an immediate connection to the start of the band."
Other highlights in the Beacon Box include the March 13th version with Boz Scaggs of "Loan Me a Dime" from his first solo album (a track that originally featured one of Duane's most famous session solos); a March 14th spacewalk through Miles Davis' "In a Silent Way" with trumpeter Randy Brecker and Return to Forever drummer Lenny White; and a soul-ballad cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" on March 27th, with Gregg singing and Ivan Neville on piano. The Dead set with Lesh and Weir on the last night, March 28th, is nearly an hour of "Sugaree," "I Know You Rider" and "Franklin's Tower."
For Trucks, who played in Clapton's touring band in 2007-8, the latter's extended spells onstage — Clapton played six songs with the Allmans on March 19th, seven on the 20th — were a magnificent shock. Trucks says that in a 15-minute "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" on the second night, Clapton took a solo "that was a different side of him, that I hadn't seen. Where he normally would have gotten to his point, stayed and got out, he got in, stayed and realized he wasn't nearly finished. He kept plowing. There was a freedom and unhinged element to it that I really dug."
Trucks points out that before every Beacon run "since I joined the band, there was a rumor that Eric would play." When he finally showed up last year, "there was a palpable buzz in the place — and in the band, like there was unfinished business. For the Allmans, in a sense, it was something to prove. And it happened in the best spirit.
"It was a magical night," Trucks says of the second Clapton show. "The whole run was," he adds quickly — and proudly.
For more information on the 2009 Beacon Box and other recent and archival live Allman Brothers Band releases, go to HittinTheNote.com.
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• Last Night at the Beacon With the Allman Brothers - Phish Edition
• Allman Brothers Band Wrap Beacon Theatre Run With Dead, Kid Rock Cameos