Wednesday, January 8, 2014

CONCERT REVIEW: Gregg Allman (1/2/14)

w/ Devon Allman Band
King Center / Melbourne, FL / 1.2.14 

Blues / rock pioneer
Gregg Allman
returned recently 
to Florida's Space 
Coast to deliver a
live performance
that was a bona
fide family affair.

For a typical up-and-coming artist, the experience of opening for an iconic musician such as  Gregg Allman  is similar to that of walking in front of a firing squad, or jumping headfirst, naked, into an infested shark tank. But be sure, Devon Allman is anything but a typical up-and-comer. Along with his skin-tight band of seasoned pros, the R&B-inspired singer, songwriter and guitarist took the King Center stage at 8pm. And in short order, the quartet began carving up delicious aural slices of rootsy rock from his 2013 debut record, Turquoise.

Old school monitor speaker wedges lined the front of the stage and a wall of amps, drums and (vintage) guitars lined the back as The Devon Allman Band boldly held court. To the delight of his 2,000 newfound Florida friends, the 41-year-old Allman brutally punished his white classic Gibson SG for much of the 30-minute set, as he led his troops through such blistering, blues-flavored gems as "When I Left Home" and "Don't Set Me Free."

"The future of rock and roll is in good hands," Allman announced proudly as he introduced the band's 23-year-old guitar ace, Bobby Schneck Jr. — a spot-on assessment to be sure. And consisting of bassist Steve Duerst and drummer Anthony Nanney, Allman's rhythm section was solid enough to withstand even the gale force winds that had been pounding the Melbourne area for most of the evening. In fact, the Devon Allman collective can best be described as a true blue, authentic roots rock band, peppered with Stax-like soulfulness.

Devon Allman Band -- Melbourne, FL / 1.2.14
(Concert photos: Michelle Wilson)
My first experience seeing The Devon Allman Band was organic and personal. The faces and the songs were new to me, but at the same time, it seemed like I merely was getting reacquainted with old friends — just like back in the vinyl LP days of my youth, when I first discovered such magical artists as Eric ClaptonHumble Pie and yes, even The Allman Brothers Band. And in the end, The Devon Allman Band triumphed — leaving the stage without as much as a single bullet wound or shark bite — BRAVO!

For his part, Devon's dad, Gregg Allman, delivered a perfect, career-spanning set — or at least it was as perfect as anyone could expect him to deliver in under two hours.

Dressed in a dark Vee-neck, faded blue jeans, boots, and sporting a mint's worth of silver, tattoos and signature blond ponytail, the 66-year-old legend made his way from stage left to stage right and soon was positioned in the driver's seat — between his trade- mark Hammond B-3 organ and the classic Leslie speaker.

Without saying (hardly) a word, Allman and company took the ever-faithful flock immediately back to the Filmore East for a dose of "Statesboro Blues." GAME ON, indeed! But this Blind Willie McTell classic wouldn't be Allman's only blues treasure of the night, nor would it be the only treat from The Allman Brothers Band's 1971 landmark double-live record.

Be sure, this was a Gregg Allman show. Hence, many of the tunes were culled from his impressive solo catalog, including "Midnight Rider" and "Please Call Home" — a pair of re-worked versions of his best early Allman Brothers classics, both of which appeared on his 1973 debut solo record, Laid Back. Other such solo staples as "I'm No Angel" (1987) and "Before the Bullets Fly" (1988) also wound up in play — Allman dedicated the latter to its writer, his longtime Allman Brothers colleague,  Warren Haynes.

Allman, Johnson and Sharrard.
Yes, there were Allman Brothers biggies galore played throughout the night, and the Gregg Allman-penned, Eat a Peach double-whammy of "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" and "Melissa" more than satisfied the masses.

Despite Allman's countless dubious distinctions over the course of his (nearly) 50-year career, his most compelling contributions to rock and roll culture have been his unique keyboard style, his beautifully whiskey-soaked vocals and of course, his timeless songs. However, Gregg Allman also has been responsible for turning the world onto some amazing classic blues music. And in that regard, the Sonny Boy Williamson / Marshall Sehorn / Elmore James standard, "One Way Out," along with T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday" and John Adam Estes' "Floating Bridge," from Allman's 2011 Top Ten-selling Low Country Blues record, all were mighty concert highlights.

But one man, even a rock and roll icon, does not a band make. And Allman's seven-piece ensemble was second to none. Guitarist Scott Sharrard, keyboardist Ben Stivers, drummer Steve Potts, percussionist Marc Quinones, bassist Ron Johnson and Musical Director Jay Collins on a variety of  horns and hand percussion instruments, proved not only to possess impeccable musicianship, but also the ability to breathe new life and fresh energy into the well-known set list.

One of the show's brightest moments occurred when Devon Allman returned to the stage, guitar in hand, to join in on one of his dad's all-time best-known standards, the 1969 epic, "Dreams."

For me, the personal pinnacle of the performance was the show-ending "Whipping Post." Whether it's played by his solo band, with The Allman Brothers, covered by Frank Zappa or whoever — this one defines Allman's artistry, and it never gets old... She took all my money. Wrecks my new car. Now she's with one of my good time buddies. They're drinkin' in some cross town bar. Ah yeah, I've been there, man — I still can feel your pain. Yes, 45 years later, Gregg Allman's work remains as relevant, poetic and powerful as ever — on the hi-fi or the concert stage.

-Christopher Long
(January 2014)

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