By Mark Augustine
How do you begin talking about The Allman Brothers Band? The Allman’s musical legacy is equaled only by the band’s history of personal tragedy and internal strife. It might even seem petty to re-hash the band’s volatile past, and I won’t attempt to do so (at least here) if only to save myself from the amount of research and reportage that an endeavor like that would require. But I feel an obligation to at least mention it, because that history is still directly affecting the band’s lineup, which affects how the band sounds live, and any discussion of The Allman Brothers Band should largely focus on how they sound live.
And they sound spectacular. I caught the Allman’s on the first night of their two-night stint at The Chicago Theatre on August 20th and 21st, and their power is undeniable. In the band’s forty-four-year history, there have been a variety of different lineups—some made by choice, and other’s by circumstance beyond control—and I know I am not alone in believing that this incarnation is the only one that truly, sincerely rivals that of the original with Duane Allman at the helm. Much of this has to do with the band’s two guitar players—Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks—whose interplay can at times rival that of Coltrane and Davis. There were moments during Done Somebody Wrong, Hot ‘Lanta, and especially In Memory of Elizabeth Reed where it was hard to imagine any of their contemporaries being able to touch them. As well, Gregg Allman is physically healthier than he has been in decades, and this is directly reflected in his playing, but mostly in his voice. The band opened the second set with a song they had never performed live before, a cover of Wilson Pickett’s I Found A Love, and in that moment Gregg’s husky rasp was as good as I have ever heard it.
But here we must mention what is missing. Or rather, who is missing. That would, of course, be founding member and guitar player Dickey Betts, who hasn’t been with the band for over a decade. Many different and often contradicting explanations for his absence have been given by a variety of people within and without the band. The only salient fact about Dickey Betts not being in the Allman Brothers Band is that it appears he will continue to not be in the Allman Brothers Band for a very long time. I like Dickey Betts, and my respect for him as a musician is immense. His influence both in the Allman’s and in the world of music and guitar playing is colossal. But if any relevant discussion of The Allman Brothers Band centers on how the band currently sounds live (which it should) I have to say this: standing on floor of the Chicago Theatre that Tuesday evening, watching that band play the way that they did, I did not miss him.