Gregg Allman, Devon Allman
May 7, 2015
Without a doubt, Gregg Allman is one of the most influential musicians of his generation, and Wednesday night he delivered a string of favorites for a packed crowd at the Stafford Centre. At 67, Allman is transitioning back to a solo artist after the most recent (but not necessarily permanent) dissolution of the Allman Brothers Band. While the dynamic of his touring band was shaky at best, it was still a great experience for many to see one of the pioneers of southern blues-rock in action.
As expected, the crowd in attendance skewed slightly older, albeit with a surprising amount of people under 40. While there were a fair number of drunken individuals shouting out song requests or other insightful exclamations throughout Allman’s performance, as a whole they were mostly well behaved, especially for a Houston audience.
The night opened up with a serviceable but not exceptional performance from Gregg’s son, Devon Allman. Like his father, Devon recently left the band he had been playing with for the past few years and indicated that he had only been playing with his current lineup for a couple weeks. While that showed, Devon’s skills as a guitarist were technically impressive. His band could keep up, but his riffs and jamming were the highlight of his set, even if there wasn’t much more to offer besides that. His songs left something to be desired, but no one was really paying attention to what he was singing anyway.
Devon looked most comfortable stepping away from the microphone and into the crowd, busting out an extended solo that proved his chops. He made a point to ask the crowd to “support real music, not that computer robot bullshit,” as many in the crowd cheered and the rest were left to wonder who was more out of touch. While he was a fine musician, Devon didn’t do enough to shine out from under his father’s spotlight.
The elder Allman wasted no time once he took the stage, opening with a rousing rendition of the Allman Brothers classic “Statesboro Blues." He then delivered a set that spanned his entlre catalog both with the Allmans and his solo material; later-period hits like “I’m No Angel” flowed nicely alongside classics like “Midnight Rider.” The set also drew heavily from his 1973 album Laid Back with deeper cuts like “Multi-Colored Lady” and “Please Call Home.”
Throughout his performance, it was clear that while Allman was a consummate professional fully in control of his craft, he was also an aging rock star still working out the kinks of performing with the latest incarnation of his touring band. Everyone was an expert musician, but they never seemed fully in sync with each other. Every time a member of the 9-piece group would break out into a solo, the other members would stare at him waiting for a cue to move on to the next part in a way that made things slightly awkward. It might have been an off night, but it seemed like the band could have used more time getting acquainted with each other.
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Allman, for his part, sounded great. His voice wasn’t shot like a few of his contemporaries, and he switched off between piano and guitar with ease. While he started the wrong song once and had to take a brief intermission midway through the set, he held his own onstage given the fact that he’s pushing 70. The one area where some of his songs suffered was where the arrangements were changed to give them a more lounge or blues vibe. It worked on some songs, but others like “Whipping Post” lost their momentum and spark as they were stretched out into extended jam sessions. The best moments were the comparatively stripped down ones like when Allman went acoustic for a lovely version of “Melissa”, the one song that had everyone in the crowd singing along. While his legacy will always include jam-filled blues-rock, his softer sides remain some of his strongest.
Getting a chance to see an artist of Allman’s statue was a memorable experience for everyone involved, even if he has comfortably settled into his elder-statesman period. Even though the crowd may have dwindled considerably as the night went on, many who remained were die-hards, discussing possible set lists, singing along and anxiously awaiting for the next song. While Allman and his ilk may be considered to be safe dad-rock by many getting a chance to see him live surely proved why his legacy and career have endured for almost five decades.
Personal Bias: I grew up listening to the Allman Brothers Band greatest hits, but the night was mainly spent taking my father to see one of his favorite musicians for his birthday. I may not have been as familiar with Allman's solo material, but it was a joy to see my father get to watch a performance from someone he loves.