The Allman Brothers Band

Instant Live: Alltel Pavilion at Walnut Creek

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The final evening of their 2003 summer tour found the Allman Brothers planning a special night on the friendly turf of Raleigh, NC, wrapping up yet another road trip with invitations to Susan Tedeschi, Karl Denson, and truly serious jazzbo Branford Marsalis to join the group on-stage. It was all captured by the state-of-the-digital-arts folks at Instant Live, who burn CDs of the shows and make them available to concertgoers who still have a few extra green ones in their pockets by evening's end. On the sprawling three-CD set documenting these particular proceedings, there is indeed some fine music, although in his Allmans premiere appearance Marsalis doesn't fare as well as jam band-friendly Denson; the sax-blowing Marsalis brother (heard on "Dreams" and "Whipping Post") seems shoehorned between the guitars and strains a bit over the loud rock groove. Elsewhere, Gregg Allman is in fine voice, particularly on the slower numbers like the stellar read of "Gambler's Roll" from Seven Turns and the world-weary "Old Before My Time"; Derek Trucks is indeed a wunderkind as advertised; Oteil Burbridge is the most proficient bassist the band has ever had; the drum section remains a powerhouse; and Warren Haynes knocks the ball out of the park with a "Whipping Post" solo that seemingly condenses and channels the classic Fillmore East showcases of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, while including a few patented licks of his own. The cover tunes are nice surprises, too, particularly Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic," with its heartfelt Haynes vocal. Disc two is dominated by a nearly 40-minute version of Hittin' the Note's "Instrumental Illness," the longest mega-track one might find on an Allmans disc this side of "Mountain Jam." And while the Grammy-nominated "Illness" is indeed a very good late-era Allmans instrumental track, with jazzy, boppish rhythms and some engaging compositional twists and turns, its humongous length here is not due to full-band improvisational interplay but rather an extended drum break that goes on and on and on. This often routine part of the Allmans' live set (sometimes more than doubling the length of a tune like "Elizabeth Reed" and even completely dominating an otherwise short blues-rock song like "Black-Hearted Woman") is powerfully impressive in person, but on CD begins to seem like an opportunity for the listener to head out to the kitchen to cook a five-course meal and still have plenty of time before Burbridge's jazzy bass licks signal that the drummers wish to proceed no further on their own. Here, the drum extravaganza dilutes the impact of what preceded it: fiery solos from Haynes and Derek Trucks along with killer sax from Denson over some of the funk-jazziest backing the band has ever conjured up. Ultimately, though, this set seems best suited as a souvenir for audience members -- who are often recorded at a high volume level and might be as interested in hearing themselves on CD ("Hey, I think that's me yelling 'YEEEAAAGGHHHHHH!'") as the band itself. And if you're looking for a 21st century "Mountain Jam," the "Instrumental Illness" found here, despite its length, is a completely different kind of animal. [Other Instant Live packages from 2003 and 2004 do include noteworthy readings of "Mountain Jam," including a pretty damn good two-part version recorded during the September 24 show at Atlanta's Fox Theater (captured on Instant Live: Fox Theatre Atlanta, GA 9/24/04, which itself was packaged into the epic nine-CD Fox Box), although the appreciative audience members really scream out of your speakers on this one.]

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