It has evolved into more than just a series of gigs; it has become a tradition. Gregg Allman and company roll the tour bus into New York City every spring and settle in for a two-week stand at the Beacon Theatre. What group commands that kind of respect or fan support? Only the Allman Brothers Band, that's who. And with the new double live CD recorded from consecutive evenings in March 2003, all doubts are dispelled as to who the finest live jammers are. Forget the Dead and Phish, they're not even close, as the Allmans and the Beacon have become synonymous with extended play brilliance.
Into his fourth decade assembling the musicians, Gregg Allman has done a remarkable job of juggling personnel and keeping his charges functioning as a cohesive unit. Warren Haynes is completely at ease dueling with wunderkind Derek Trucks, as the pair strum and slide their way through two and a half hours of blues drenched classics. Jaimoe, Butch Trucks, and Mark Quinones effortlessly trade percussion licks, while bassist Oteil Burbridge follows, having found his niche replacing the late Allen Woody. And of course there's Allman himself, whose flowing keyboard work and ragged vocals sound as good as ever.
For everyone's listening pleasure, the twin discs offer up 18 tracks of set list standards and surprises, short takes and full blown explorations. From disc one's opening of "Statesboro Blues", the band is in prime form, slowly burning up the 13-plus-minute "Desdemona" to a rollicking jaunt through "Trouble No More". Even the staple "Midnight Rider" shines with new luster. The set is flawless in all respects, and is punctuated by the phenomenal Haynes led closer, "Instrumental Illness".
Could it get any better?
Obviously it can, as disc two is even more impressive than its counterpart. The band delves into the deepest recesses of its blues sensibilities, contrasting the somber "Old Before My Time" with the smoldering "Worried Down with the Blues". As with any Allmans' concert however, the absolute best is left for last. Two tracks, a 28-minute finale, enough said. OK, just a few more words... "Dreams" and "Whipping Post".
As strong a performance as these discs provide, there is one small gripe that aficionados may voice. Although the overall sound is crisp through out, particularly for a live recording, Burbridge's bass is frustratingly quiet. A shame really, as he contributes some fine low-end rumble that would be fully appreciated if miked up a bit more.
That minor issue aside, the most amazing aspect of One Way Out is how it compares to the Allmans' classic live albums, Atlanta International Pop Festival and Live at Fillmore East. While the talents of Duane Allman and Berry Oakely can never be truly equaled, the band has stood the test of time. Even the departure of Dickey Betts has not hampered the band's trademark sound and penchant for playing live. A good thing for the Allman faithful, as the summer tour season is now upon us. And if the band doesn't equal its level of excellence on any stage other than the Beacon, so be it, Spring 2005 isn't that far off.
But if One Way Out is the Allman's new millennium sign of things to come, then kick back and relax, 'cause Gregg and the boys still got it...