Allman Brothers Band guitarist Warren Haynes seemed both confident and correct when he chanted “It’s too late to stop now” in Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” on Tuesday at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. While both the Allmans and the Doobie Brothers, who opened, have recorded and toured for 40 years, the Doobies are about the songs, well-loved classic rockers that never left the radio; and the Allmans are about what they did with the songs.
The Doobies’ 80-minute opener was packed with hits, devoid of surprises, really strong in a workmanlike way, completely unaffected by blinding rain on the lawn, and revved into overdrive by guitarist-singer Tom Johnston.
For Gazette music writer Michael Hochenadel’s preview column on the brothers Doobie and Allman, click here.
They fired up as if they only had a 45-minute slot, rocking “Rock Me,” proclaiming “Jesus Is Just All Right With Me,” getting kinda “Dangerous” and “Rockin’ Down the Highway” before anyone spoke. They interrupted the flow of the familiar and well-loved with the really old “Nobody,” the really new (but nostalgic) “Back to the Chateau” and the even-older-than-they-are “Little Bitty Pretty One” — always managing to hold the crowd easily until the next hit showed up. The hits hit the crowd hard: “Takin’ It To the Streets,” “Black Water” with a jittery John McFee fiddle solo, Marc Russo’s sax blasts in “Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” bassist Skylark’s Michael McDonald-like vocal in “Takin’ It to the Streets” and the flat-out, full-blast of a blues shuffle so strong I never bothered to listen to the words.
The Doobies’ set was about the songs and the grooves until Johnston pulled the crowd right into the show. The Doobies’ ensemble crispness, zippy solos — by (in order of quality and frequency) McFee, Johnson, Pat Simmons, Russo and keyboardist Guy Allison — and tight harmonies made for a good performance; Johnston’s energy made it a show.
Allmans take over
The Allmans took over at 9 and rocked past 11 — always precise (except when the groove got loose in “Statesboro Blues”), often spirited and able to keep the crowd on its feet or singing along — especially in “Midnight Rider.” Like the Doobies, they hit with strong stuff first: “Not My Cross to Bear” and “Trouble No More.”
Guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks phrased like horn players or singers — you could hear the breaths in their pauses — perfect accompaniment for Gregg Allman’s distinctive voice, and turn-the-song-inside-out soloists. If Haynes seemed more powerful and Trucks’ playing prettier, they swapped roles often, echoing the band’s original tagteam of Duane Allman and Dickie Betts but sounding entirely like themselves. Like the Grateful Dead, and all other good jam bands, the players really listened and helped each other. Only Allman’s keyboard solos didn’t always light up, but Haynes and Trucks were wildfires, especially in “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” which closed the main set before the encore, “One Way Out.” Allman was at his best in “Love is Everwhere” which Haynes spiced with a bit of “Mountain Jam” before Allman reclaimed the main melody with upbeat singing.
For any band that can still uncork shows as musically strong and emotionally stirring as Tuesday’s SPAC show, it really is too late to stop now.
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