Live Report: The Allman Brothers Band

Pine Knob Music Theatre, Independence Township, Mich., August 9, 1998

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Meet the new Dead. Same as the old Dead? Not entirely, but it's clear thatamidst all the pre-Other Ones hand-wringing over who deserves the GratefulDead's vaulted mantle -- and lucrative fan base -- in the hippie-rock realm(Phish? The Dave Matthews Band? Blues Traveler?), the Allman Brothers Band hasquietly emerged as the band of choice for the tie-dyed, froogie dancers whoare as happy twirling to "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" as they were to "NewSpeedway Boogie."

To be sure, the Allman's show at the Pine Knob amphitheater had many of thetrappings of a Dead show or, this year, a Furthur Festival stop. The parkinglot was dotted with out-of-state license plates belonging to those who are now"touring" with the Allmans. A few souls wandered the perimeter with one or twofingers in the air, looking for a "miracle" (i.e., a free ticket rather thanthe readily available ones at the box office). Incense burned by tailgatebarbecues, while inside the venue tapers set up their microphones and comparedset lists from previous shows.

The Allmans are perfectly aware of what's going on, too. The brightly coloredtapestries surrounding the stage and projections on a rear-screen stage evokeda certain Fillmore flavor (and don't forget that trademark mushroom logo). Thegroup even played an instrumental portion of the Dead's "Franklin's Tower,"which guitarist Dickey Betts dedicated to the late Jerry Garcia, as anintroduction for their own "Blue Sky."

But the Allmans bring something else to the party -- a gritty Southern bluessensibility that makes the proceedings more rootsy than trippy. "Everybodyloves the blues," Gregg Allman cackled before delivering "Stormy Monday" inhis gruff, leathery voice, and that certainly proved true during renditions of"Statesboro Blues," Betts' "Change My Way of Thinking" and an acoustic versionof "Steady Rollin' Man."

This time out, the Allmans have more fully integrated its newest members,guitarist Jack Pearson and bassist Oteil Burbridge, who were hired during thespring of 1997 to replace Gov't Mulers Warren Haynes and Allen Woody.Pearson's light touch and fluid, jazzy style -- not to mention his dynamicslide playing -- was less gunslinger-oriented than Haynes but stillcomplements Betts' six-string explosions and even seemed to bring a bit moresubtlety out of the veteran. Burbridge, meanwhile, fills the bottom with hisown jazz- and R&B-steeped runs, jogging his bass through the formidable rumbleof the Allman's three percussionists.

The group's two-hour and twenty-minute set was both a crowd-pleaser andenlightener, blending a handful of hits ("Blue Sky," "Melissa," "MidnightRider") with favorite album tracks ("Ain't Wastin' Time No More," "Don't KeepWonderin' "), while the half-hour "Elizabeth Reed" and "High Falls" havebecome epics of virtuostic soloing -- a little more in-your-face than the Deadbut with more than enough texture to keep its particular lovelight burningfrom start to finish.