I got out of work in plenty of time and had not too much summer traffic on the way to pick up Sarah at the train in Billerica and then to navigate up to 93 North. That slowed down of course with the early rush hour crowd, but we hit our stride upwards of Manchester and cruised on to Route 11, the Lakes region of NH, and the beautiful downhill towards Gilford and Lake Winnepesaukee.
Made our way into the parking lot by 5:40 or so and got out the lawn chairs for some sandwiches and Sobes in the afternoon sun. The crowd was much mellower than it had been for Furthur and the security was too ... they gently told people to put their beers in plastic cups instead of busting their chops. Put the chairs away, walked into the venue, got beers, and paid for the CD of the concert up front, and then made our way to our seats in row 13 (stage right) right before Winwood came out.
God, he was fantastic! He was on keys for most songs; we couldn't see the keyboards themselves, but he apparently had at least an organ and a piano in the same box, with foot pedals that made an awesome, droning sound. His guitar player, José Neto was fantastic; his sax/woodwinds player, Paul Booth, was beyond belief; his congas/percussion player, Café, was phenomenal; and his drummer, Richard Bailey, was an absolute monster. Some notes:
- You have to be fantastic to play with Steve Winwood and so to say that Neto was the most pedestrian of the 5 is not saying he was bad, he was just the glue that held them together.
- They didn't have a bass, but did that bother them? Not at all ... Neto had his bass strings tuned low, Winwood had those pedal drones, and most of all ...
- Richard Bailey had a drum kit to drool over, including two toms that were as big as normal bass drums. This meant he (being incredibly skilled of course) could get an amazing assortment of bass sounds by striking them in the middle, around the edges, with different sticks, etc. He was worth the price of admission alone, especially when he played as fast as he did and got the rolling blues thunder going.
- Café also had a phantasmagoric array of percussion instruments, from normal-looking bongos and congas to weird basket drums, gourds, cymbals, and chimes.
- Paul Booth opened on flute but then alternated for most of the night between a baritone and a tenor sax (which were really not that far apart in size or tone). He was just amazing on sax, playing it with an ease and dexterity you rarely see (actually, I'd never seen someone who could finger the sax so precisely) and producing beautiful sounds.
- Booth also filled in on organ when Winwood switched to his (rocking) Stratocaster, and did the harmony vocals, which were remarkable themselves: half-bars and snippets of phrases that needed to be emphasized in Winwood's classic songs.
- Light Up was the jam of the set, with Winwood doing unmentionable things to the organ, Booth using his saxophone to twist us into places we hadn't been before (he also did some percussion), and Bailey pounding his kit.
Winwood played the old stuff. How's this for a set list: Rainmaker, I'm A Man, Can't Find My Way Home, Had To Cry Today, Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, Higher Love, Dear Mr. Fantasy, and Gimme Some Loving?????
Break time and no one in the place wanted Winwood to leave but the stage crew was already out there setting up for the next band ... we'd all forgotten who it was going to be for a minute, but then we all remembered. I had a nice conversation with the guys about Winwood, the Brothers, and stuff while waiting in an interminable men's room line, got another beer, and wandered a little. Not much time left and made my way back to row 13 in time to get just a tad more excited before THE ALLMAN BROTHERS came out and hit that groove hard with Hot 'Lanta!!!!!
For those of you who haven't been paying attention (including me for much of the past century), the current Allman Brothers Band (didn't originally have the "Band" on there but it's called for) consists of original members Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks, and Jaimoe, with Oteil Burbridge on bass, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks (Butch's nephew) on guitars, and Marc Quinones on congas and percussion. I'm at a loss for what to say now, that's just an incredible lineup.
OK, here's what they played (no set break): Hot 'Lanta, Statesboro Blues, Don't Keep Me Wonderin', Midnight Rider, Worried Down With the Blues, Leave My Blues At Home, Trouble No More, Dusk Till Dawn (new song), One Way Out, In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed, Feel Like Breakin' Up Somebody's Home, No One To Run With, and Whipping Post (encore).
How did I feel about all this? Well, I was really transported to a wonderful spot, grinning in delight, dancing slowly to songs I'd heard since I was a pup, grooving to the sounds and communing with the people around me in ways that I rarely experience. At a Furthur concert there's a sense that what you're hearing is incredibly precious and there's a panic to savor it; at an Allman Brothers concert there's a sense that this is the way the blues and these songs in particular should be played and are always being played by the heavenly choir ... we just have to get in the groove and hear them.
- I was incredibly impressed by Haynes, his leadership, his rhythm, and his vocals in particular. I've seen him with other combos and he wasn't a perfect fit with them but in this case he was perfect.
- Butch Trucks was perhaps the performer of the night for me; all set long he did not stop playing a thundering, precise beat on everything that came within sight. On several songs he moved back to his tympanis and I've definitely never heard them played like that before!
- Oteil Burbridge is one of the best bass players I've ever seen or heard. You have to hear this person play melodies within melodies while keeping up the beat to the screaming blues and see how his fingers dance around the fretboard. He also filled in on the drums at times while Butch was doing barely legal things to the tympanis.
- Quinones and Jaimoe were essential to the sound, Jaimoe producing on the blues groove and Quinones going wild on the congas and high-pitched cymbals.
- Derek Trucks is one of those genius guitar players, what can you say? His expression doesn't change that much, his technique is perfect, and the sounds he produces elucidate the songs for the masses. He couldn't help but look a little bored playing rhythm during Haynes's leads but then he would crank it up at his turn, rip one off himself, and he was in his element. When he and Haynes both led together it was sublime, that's what we came to hear!
- And speaking of what we came to hear, there was that Gregg guy on the organ (he played piano for one song, One Way Out). Though they've always had great instrumentalists, what does it for me for the band is when Gregg puts his heart into the vocals, like on Whipping Post or Leave My Blues At Home. At various times people have knocked him for not being as involved as possible, but that night he was, both vocally and on the organ.
The end of the set arrived and this *really* gave us the blues, except that we knew one last blast was coming. This may have been the longest I've had to wait for an encore, but the crowd kept yelling and banging on the seats, and screaming through the wait. Finally the band came back on stage and it was then that the screams for Whipping Post started, my voice not least among them.
Uh, Oteil starts it off. "I've been run down, and I've been lied to ..."
Whipping Post had been playing on our car stereo when we got to the lot and it was the song of the night, closing the evening, with Trucks and Haynes milking their guitars, Allman throwing himself all over the organ, Trucks shaking our world with his rhythm, and then Gregg coming back after an amazing jam to tell us that sometimes (maybe *all* the time) he feels like he's been tied. "GOOD LORD, I feel like I'm ......... dying."
Gregg was done and politely thanked the crowd, as did Warren. That was really good. We picked up our CD of the concert, made our way back to the car, waited to get out of the parking lot, and then drove the 2 hours home. Boy, was that worth it!