Rock Of Ages
The reason why I avoid going for rock shows—here in India or anywhere else—is because it is hard to feel good if you’re like a dinosaur in an audience whose average age typically hovers around half of yours. You could, of course, ask me, perfectly legitimately too, what do I expect if I, plumb in the middle of middle-age, insist on listening to bands that people half my age or less than that find contemporary, interesting and hip. But I shall choose not to answer stupid questions.
As I was saying, it is tough not to stand out sorely as a grey-haired and increasingly wrinkled old man at gigs where everyone else is wearing impossibly skinny jeans and, forget about the colour, actually has hair. So, on March 24 when I found myself in an audience where the average age seemed actually more than mine (really) and spotted at least a couple of septuagenarians too (not kidding!), I felt totally at home. No, if you’re thinking my music listening proclivities have suddenly moved towards classical or that of the chamber type or even opera, it is not true. This was a rock concert at New York’s storied Beacon Theater and I had come to watch the Allman Brothers Band play one of its annual runs at the venue.
The crowd was full of 40, 50 and more somethings, many decked-out in tee shirts and sweatshirts with the band graphics. In the beginning, things seemed quiet as the roadies on Beacon’s fabulous stage set things up and tested the acoustics. I said to myself that the crowd would be quiet, sitting calmly, munching popcorn and taking the occasional sip from their plastic beer glasses. How wrong I was! The band began an amazing set with Don’t Want You No More, Gregg Allman’s 1970 tune from the album, Dreams. Shortly into the song, the chap next to me who looked like he had a day job as a professor in some college, stuck his fingers under his tongue and let out a piercing whistle. Then, the unmistakable smell of marijuana and wafts of smoke began rising from the row in front. This, I knew, was going to be fun.
Since 1989 (with the exception of a year, maybe two), The Allman Brothers Band has had a tradition of playing several nights in a row at the Beacon. With this year’s run, they notched more than 200 gigs at this Upper Westside venue in New York. The two-set gig spanned nearly four hours with Gregg Allman at the keyboards, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks on guitars, Butch Trucks, Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson and Marc Quinoes on drums and percussion and Oteil Burbridge on the bass.
In true ‘Beacon Run’ tradition in which the band brings on guests during sets, this evening they had Leslie West on guitar and vocals, Shawn Pelton on drums, and Danny Louis on piano on the classic track, Crossroads, while West, Pelton and Louis were joined by James Van De Bogart on another tune. I have written about The Allman Brothers Band in Download Central before and it is band that I had been dying to see play live. Finally, it happened. The gig was a great one; the venue historic and, more than all of that, this year marked the band’s 42nd anniversary. I cannot think of too many bands that have stayed alive and put in so much of live touring for so long. Of course, there have been personnel changes over the years (star members such as Duane Allman and Berry Oakley have died) but the band—and this I can testify—have not lost their ability to electrify the audience.
The setlist, in two parts, for the evening included, besides Crossroads and Don’t Want You No More, classics such as Melissa, Come On In My Kitchen, Mountain Jam, It’s Not My Cross to Bear, Going Down and many more favourites. The crowd rocked, particularly, after the break when everyone was greatly liquored up and many also seemed to have come back with slightly altered minds. One sidelight of the show (you could call it a demographic factor) was the huge, huge queues to go to the restrooms during the break (I told you, no? That the average age of the audience was 40 plus and you know what happens to you after that, particularly if you’re a man).
Besides the slick sound and excellent music—Haynes and Trucks stole the show with their magical guitar work and Allman (now 63 and with a new liver) once again proved that he is a genius, both with his vocals as well as on the keyboards)—there was the impressive clockwork-like marketing machine that backed the band. Within 15 minutes after the show ended, you could pick up that night’s recordings on a three-CD album issued by the band, besides the usual swag such as tees, shirts, bandanas and stuff.
I think every middle-aged person who saw that Thursday night’s Beacon gig left the venue a very satisfied soul. Except, perhaps, for the ruddy-faced persistent fan in the row behind me who may have shouted at least a hundred times, requesting for One Way Out, a fine blues song that the band have covered in several gigs since the 1970s. Alas, despite his persistence, the band didn’t play that number on Thursday night.