PHOTO BY MILES WEAVER
Brett Milano reports on last night's Allman Brothers Band show at the Orpheum, the first of a four-night stand:
The Allman Brothers Band have a long history with the Orpheum Theatre, having recorded two live albums there during the '90s. But they hit the Orpheum on Tuesday night with a different venue on their minds: that show, the first of a four-night stand, devoted its second set to 1971’s Live at Fillmore East, the group’s popular breakthrough and a standard choice on “best live album ever” type lists. (Their other significant double album, 1972’s Eat a Peach, was promised for Wednesday.). Not that there’s anything unique about full-album shows -- which too often are just classic-rock playlisting brought to the stage -- but this one was a little different. Fillmore East is above all an improvisational album, keyed to Duane Allman and Dickey Betts’s twin-guitar explorations (although fine and distinctive, Gregg Allman’s vocals didn’t occupy that much vinyl time). Even Tom Dowd’s production was an improvisation of sorts, editing different performances together to create the ultimate versions.
So on Tuesday, they stayed true to the original album’s spirit by reworking every track, save for the two quick blues-rockers (“Statesboro Blues” and “Done Somebody Wrong”) that open it. And once again, it was the two guitarists that got most of the glory. This may be blasphemy to Duane diehards, but Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks (respectively, 11 years old and unborn when Fillmore East was recorded) may be the best guitar team the band’s ever had, with the free-flowing Eastern feel of Trucks’s leads finding a perfect match in the bluesy grit of Haynes’s. “You Don’t Love Me” got a long instrumental coda that was entirely different from the one on the album -- the latter was a funky strut, Tuesday’s version was more of a graceful raga. The cheap thrills came during a half hour’s worth of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” which proved conclusively that a drum quartet (with the band’s usual percussion trio joined by ex-Dixie Dreg Rod Morgenstein, now a Berklee instructor) is more fun than a drum solo.
It was a small miracle that Gregg Allman was there at all: after a hepatitis C diagnosis, he underwent a liver transplant last year and had to cancel a solo tour last summer due to respiratory complications. His voice on Tuesday was notably raspier than usual and not quite as forceful as it’s been. But he was writing grizzled, world-weary lyrics at age 22, and he’s now got the kind of wizened voice that the lyrics in “Whippin’ Post” and “It’s Not My Cross To Bear” call for. Add to that list the first set’s cover of Dr. John’s “Walk on Gilded Splinters” -- a voodoo-themed number about surviving some trial by fire -- where Allman’s chants were complemented by the percussive churning and Haynes’s slinky slide. It’s a spooky, triumphant song, and this is a band that deserves to play it.