A few minutes before 9 p.m., The Allman Brothers Band sauntered onstage, immediately headed into a group huddle to confer over the set list, then noodled around with their instruments for a few minutes before sliding into “One Way Out.”
The vibe never changes at an ABB show, which loyal fans, like the sold out mass at Chastain Park Amphitheatre, can attest, is exactly the way they want it.
It’s mellow, designed for absorbing more than shouting along – though there was some of that – and the crowd always ranges from teens to seniors, with motorcycle muscle T-shirts happily sharing space with Jimmy Buffett-like straw hats.
At Wednesday’s show, within minutes of finding his zone in “One Way Out,” Gregg Allman worked his way from whispering vocals to a guttural, emphatic delivery, while Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johanson beat out the first of many complex drum breakdowns and Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks wielded their guitars in a thrilling musical duel.
The band is just off a touring bout with Santana, so they’re well-rehearsed, which showed during their taut, two-hour set.
Though the music is always the centerpiece at an ABB show, the video screen behind the drumming unit – which also includes percussionist Marc Quiñones – flashed old photos of the band as Haynes’ slide guitar ushered in the boogie bounce of “Statesboro Blues.”
Both Haynes and the multi-faceted Derek Trucks are refreshingly unfussy players – they simply get the job done magnificently well.
It’s almost amusing watching Trucks – who sports an identical blonde ponytail with Allman – tear out a graceful, yet monstrous riff, then casually tuck a piece of stray hair behind his ear. It always looks easy coming from those with innate talent.
Allman, meanwhile, seemed to grow stronger throughout the set. As he injected church organ and sung the heavy-lidded “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” – which shares part of its title with his recent autobiography – Allman seemed to feel every note he played and sang.
On occasion he left the stage and turned his duties to other musicians, such as on the barn burner “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” sung with robust aplomb by Haynes. But he was a regular sight behind his stack of instruments, rolling through “Leave My Blues at Home” and the psychedelic shuffle of “Dreams.”
Haynes had a surprise for the audience when he introduced William Bell, the longtime Atlanta-based songwriter/musician, who popped out to sing his blues classic, “Born Under a Bad Sign.”
Though the more prominent members of ABB receive the most attention, the value of Oteil Burbridge, a member since 1997, cannot be overstated. His anchoring of songs while staying locked in a groove with two drummers and a percussionist is a tricky accomplishment, which he pulls off effortlessly.
The bassist stepped forward later in the show to sing “Franklin’s Tower,” the Grateful Dead song performed in honor of Jerry Garcia’s 70th birthday; this time, Burbridge played alongside Al Schnier, the guitarist from show openers moe., who handled lead duties on the song, which worked into a feverish explosion of sound.
ABB’s love of their blues roots was fully realized during “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” a song with ties to Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, the band’s headquarters for many years, and also where Duane Allman and Berry Oakley are buried.
In a recent interview with the AJC, Butch Trucks noted that if any member of ABB could no longer tour, then that would be it for the band.
Let’s hope everyone stays hearty, because these guys have a lot more bite left in them.
(For more Allman coolness, check out this video of Gregg performing with fellow Georgians in the Zac Brown Band last month.)