THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: AN EVENING WITH THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: SECOND SET (1995)
1) Sailin' 'Cross The Devil's Sea; 2) You Don't Love Me; 3) Soulshine; 4) Back Where It All Begins; 5) In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed; 6) The Same Thing; 7) No One To Run With; 8) Jessica.
The slightly misleading title — the tracks here were mostly recorded in 1994, during the promotion of Where It All Begins — takes nothing from the fact that 2nd Set is at least every bit as good as 1st Set, and, in some ways, even more adventurous, finely compensating for the slight drop in quality on the studio LP that it was supposed to accompany.
It is a bit too thick on tunes from that LP, but fact is, when the Brothers play live, it does not so much matter what particular song they are playing as what sort of mood they are in when they're playing it. A brief comparison of 'Sailin' 'Cross The Devil's Sea', for instance, shows that the live counterpart kicks the studio version's ass all over the place — the guitars are louder, angrier, the tones sharper, everything is set to stun the audiences. The particular performance may have been handpicked (the tracks alternate between two different dates, signifying a diligent selection process, most likely supervised by the mighty Tom Dowd), but even if the Allmans only played with that much power for two nights out of two hundred, this is still enough to place them among the finest live acts of the 1990s.
Relative surprises, this time around, include:
— a supertight, fully satisfying rendition of the old Fillmore chestnut 'You Don't Love Me', with Haynes doing his own, rather than Duane's, thang (for good reason), and without the lengthy improvisational part; the joint guitar/organ riff still hits as hard as it used to;
— a real hot version of an old Willie Dixon blues ('The Same Thing'), which even stalwart haters of generic blues-rock might appreciate for all the amazing guitar pyrotechnics that goes on — as flashy as the show-offiest act in glam metal, but at the same time completely down-to-earth; the Betts-Haynes duel at the end is honestly trance-inducing;
— a strange, and, I would say, not fully working version of 'Jessica' that, after the main theme, introduces an out-of-place «dark» passage into this formally one-hundred-percent celebratory piece. Maybe they just wanted to show us that, in order for the sun to shine, it has to wiggle its way out of all the dark clouds, but personally, I do not think there is any place for somber overtones in the tune at all. There is also really no need to extend it to sixteen minutes: too much repetition of the motives. Still, for the most part, a cool rendition (and, in retrospect, considering that it is the last track on the Allmans' last solid album with Betts, a gallant way to say goodbye);
— the major highlight: a fully rendition of 'Elizabeth Reed' from a club date back in 1992. Could have been a disaster, but both guys are as dexterous with the acoustic as they are with power conductors, and the emotional impact is almost the same as with the electric version (except it's different, yep: in a few places, the song acquires an almost inadvertently Latin flavor).
All in all, 2nd Set is a fitting, respectable conclusion to this next stage of the Allmans' long strange trip — one of the finest stages, mind you, considering that it had not been marred by one single total failure. Major kudos for which fact should, of course, go to Warren Haynes, whose inborn genius may not reach the heights of Duane or even Dickey — but who, at least, compensates well for it by not riding motorcycles or abusing substances. There is, after all, something to be said for steady professional reliability as well. Thumbs up.
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