Last I tried to see the Allman Brothers, they canceled due to Gregg Allman’s liver transplant and Gary Clark Jr. stole the show. So rolled Chicago’s Crossroads Guitar Festival three years ago. Before that, the band crushed the Backyard in 2002. Badly in need of a fix, I fought last night’s cold for the Allmans’ figurehead at the Moody. The wait wasn’t in vain.
True blue rock & roll legends generally need no help choosing their walk-on soundtrack. Allman proved his mettle by ambling onstage to the bottomless blues of B.B. King. Quickly taking a seat behind his now standard Hammond B3 organ at stage left, Allman and his six backers launched into his 1986 solo hit “I'm No Angel” and never looked back.
As supported by a drummer, conga player, bassist, pianist, guitarist, and most importantly saxophonist/flutist Jay Collins, the singer, 65, brought that old black magic throughout the band’s 90-minute set, which followed John Hiatt and his son Devon’s Royal Southern Brotherhood. When Allman strapped on an acoustic and wobbled through an otherwise heartfelt rendition of Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” the audition held its breath.
Catharsis swept in next when Devon Allman and his Sunburst Les Paul joined the band for Allman Brothers’ leviathan “Dreams.” Son sidled up to father during his perfunctory solo, which the elder studied with interest nevertheless. Consider all the masters of the instrument Gregg Allman watched from that same foot away. Such musings fell right in line with the next standard, “Statesboro Blues.”
The bandleader then eased into the sweet spot with an impossibly soulful rendition of “Queen of Hearts,” whose sax solo by Collins made up for the absence of the Allmans’ patented guitar interplay all night long. As if the set wasn’t already levitating, ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons snuck onstage while Allman was distracted with his guitar. Initially taken aback, Allman responded by kissing his compadre on the cheek, Gibbons then improvising a verse of “One Way Out” to go with the Muddy Waters tune being covered.
“Wasted Words,” from the Allmans’ 1973 “Ramblin’ Man” sponsor Brothers and Sisters, “Melissa” and “Midnight Rider” sporting perfect flute solos, and short, funky set closer “Whipping Post” hit one after another. The second and final encore, “One Way Out,” finally put a point on Allman’s undiminished blues, his iconic vocal punctuation at the song’s end as raw and deep as his discography.
When it was over, Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” escorted the three-quarters-full-house back out into the cold, dark night.
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