“It’s been twenty-four years!” declared Gregg Allman in a rare bit of on-stage banter at Friday night’s (March 1) kickoff to the Allman Brothers Band‘s annual “March Madness” at New York City’s Beacon Theatre.

Of course, he wasn’t referencing the age of the band: the Allmans debuted in 1969.  He was marveling at how long it’s been since the band started playing their yearly New York City residencies. Much has changed since then: in ’89, they were a newly-reunited group with two new members in the fold, guitarist/singer Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody. In the years since, Haynes and Woody left the band (to form Gov’t Mule), and founding guitarist/singer Dickey Betts was fired in 2000 “for personal and professional reasons.” Tragically, Woody passed away that same year.

Today, the band features Gregg Allman and founding drummers Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson and Butch Trucks, along with longtime percussionist Marc Quinones (who joined in 1991), bassist Oteil Burbridge (who replaced Woody in in 1997).  But the crucial component of this band is the guitar team, which features Derek Trucks (Haynes’ eventual replacement, he joined in 1999) and Haynes, who rejoined in 2000, replacing Betts. The current lineup has been the longest running version of the group, and it shows in their performance: the connection between the members seems effortless at this point, bordering on telepathic.

photo credit: Maria Ives

photo credit: Maria Ives

Opening with an excerpt of their ’70s era instrumental “Les Brers In A Minor,” they quickly went into the opening sequence from their self-titled debut (from ’69): “Don’t Want You No More” and “It’s Not My Cross To Bear.” From there, they played one of their signature covers, Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues.” It’s been a cliche of the American Idol era to say that an artist who does a great cover “owns” the song. But when the Allmans cover a song, it’s no cliche: in fact, most people don’t know that “Statesboro” isn’t an Allmans original.

A few songs later, they paid tribute to McTell once again, via a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell.” With Allman and Haynes splitting the lead vocals, it was one of the highlights of the night.

photo credit: Maria Ives

photo credit: Maria Ives

The second set featured another highlight: a cover of The Beatles’ “Rain,” a song Gregg Allman covered in the ’80s (and was released on the Allman Brothers Dreams box set). Also notable: “Dusk ‘Til Dawn,” apparently a brand new Allman Brothers song.  There was also a lengthy cover of Jimi Hendrix’s psychedelic classic “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” (with Burbridge taking the spoken word vocals). The second set also featured  two of the other signature covers/greatest hits: Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More” and Elmore James’ “One Way Out.” Although both songs are decades old   (and both have been in the Allmans’ repertoire for 40 yearrs), they still manage to sound edgy and fresh.  And the fact that the band is able to do that, after all this time, explains why they are also able to sell out ten-plus dates at New York’s Beacon Theatre, year after year.

The Allman Brothers Band’s residency at the Beacon Theatre continues Tuesday March 5, with further dates on March 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17.

— Brian Ives, Radio.com

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