Soul, Rocked: The Gregg Allman Band
As he seated himself comfortably at his Hammond B3 on Monday night at City Winery, for the second of a suite of sold-out, jammed-standing-room shows, Gregg Allman raised his bearded chin and smiled over a cheering crowd. Hooking the mike close, he announced genially, “We are gonna rock your soul.” And oh, they did.
The Gregg Allman Band is currently on tour, following the sweet sad goodbye of the Allman Brothers Band. There’s no moss growing for Gregg, now 67, and his excellent, compact band. I couldn’t believe they’d fit on the small stage at City Winery: two drum sets, three guys with guitars, several different keyboards, and that glorious horn section. The Gregg Allman Band fit, and also filled up the space with camp-meeting joy and fine solo strolls, soft acoustics and searing rock and roll.
Longtime lead guitarist and musical director of the band, Scott Sharrard, shone on standards from the gentle “Melissa” to a blazing “Whipping Post.” Jay Collins (whose saxophone I’ve heard a hundred times in the company of the Levon Helm Band and Midnight Ramble Band), Art Edmaiston, and Marc Franklin cozied up shoulder to shoulder and brought a little Dixieland sound and Delta blues to the evening. Peter Levin played his keyboard with eyes closed, smiling, beatific under the bright lights. The audience appreciated them all — but were there to be a few feet away from Allman.
I’m used to Allman Brothers Band shows in cavernous venues, or outdoor ones — with Derek Trucks or Warren Haynes front and center, you were transported by glory, to be sure, but also felt miles away from Gregg, isolated behind the warm shell of the B3. Well, at City Winery I was five feet away. This makes for a very different sort of show.
Allman shifted easily from the Hammond to his beautiful black Martin and back. He played the soundtrack of his, and his audience’s, lives: a radiant “I’m No Angel,” a “Midnight Rider” evading any capture, ever. A potential downside to playing for a small and entirely adoring audience of longtime fans is the howling of audible requests — as if the band weren’t already playing just what one could wish to hear. “Do you love New York, Gregg?” some man at the bar kept bellowing. “Say you love New York.” Finally, in his best Southern-gentleman manner, Allman replied, “Yes, brother, I love New York.” He seems to, too. That last “change your mind” on “Please Call Home” was benedictory, and we felt it. After a particularly long round of applause and yelling, people shuffling among the tightly packed supper-club chairs to get to their feet and clap with hands above their heads, Allman grinned. “Y’all one bitch of a crowd,” he said appreciatively. We basked in the praise.
My only complaint? Who in the world can sit down for “Whipping Post”? I hurried to my feet, and found a flock of dance partners by one of the service doors who knew every word and guitar lick. We stayed on our feet for the encore. Allman announced it would be “an old song, by Mr. Dickey Betts.” Nothing but “Southbound,” friends. The band left the stage slowly, smiling, some of the musicians returning to greet friends, and hand out set lists. Nobody wanted to leave. It was a summer’s night in November in New York, and Gregg Allman was in the house — as he is tonight, and tomorrow. The shows are sold out, but try. There’s a wait list, and two of my dance partners Monday night walked into standing room. To quote me some “Come And Go Blues,” I wish you good luck.