Some music just begs to be heard in a hot, muggy roadhouse, where the sweat drips off the beer bottles and the dancing fans alike. Gregg Allman's sound is a perfect example, whether leading his own band or playing with the Allman Brothers Band, as he mixes gritty Southern blues, rootsy rock 'n' roll and more than a dash of funk and soul.
Allman's show at the pristine Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox was pretty much the polar opposite of a dank, smoky club, but Allman and his eight-piece backing band did their best to evoke the down-home vibe that propelled him to stardom back in the '60s and early '70s alongside his brother Duane, and eventually landed him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Pulling songs from throughout his career, Allman created 90 minutes of music that took the audience on a trip that was both adventurous and nostalgic.
Allman took the stage with a slow ramble to the front shortly after opener Matt Andersen delivered his own blues-heavy set — one that proved popular judging by the line of people buying his CDs between acts. Allman entered waving at the crowd and looking a bit gaunt before he plopped down behind his Hammond B-3 organ and led his charges through an instrumental intro that opened up into "It's Not My Cross to Bear," a tune from the Allman Brothers Band's self-titled 1969 debut. The slow blues was a bold way to kick off a show where no doubt many expected a raucous dance party, and it was an ideal way to showcase Allman's voice — a strong, gruff instrument that belies the 67-year-old's slight stature.
Like many songs to come, the "Cross" also featured a searing guitar solo from Scott Sharrad, who Allman would later introduce as the musical director of the group that also included two percussionists and three horn players, as well as the remarkable piano man Peter Levin. Considering Sharrad was tasked with ripping out some of the most classic of classic-rock riffs, guitar parts created by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts that have stood the test of the time, the man proved up to the task, easily incorporating their urgent rhythms and wicked slide parts throughout the show.
Allman followed up "It's Not My Cross to Bear" with "I'm No Angel," a song from his 1986 album of the same name that I recall being a overly produced, way-too-slick addition to his catalog. Seeing that song on MTV as a kid kept me from getting into the Allman Brothers Band for years. I'm happy to report the song has aged better than I'd ever expect thanks to the straightforward approach taken by his band, and the addition of an excellent horn section. Of course, I'll never be able to separate the song from one of Amy Poehler's greatest Saturday Night Live moments in my mind.
Allman introduced a fiery version of "Trouble No More" by saying "We're going to play some blues." That was a pretty apt description of most of the night, and Sharrad truly showed off his slide-guitar skills on that tune. Up next, Allman left his organ behind and strapped on an acoustic guitar at center stage, saying "I'm going to play you a song an old roommate of mine taught me" by way of introducing his powerful cover of Jackson Browne's "These Days."
"Boy, this is a good-sounding room!" Allman exclaimed after bringing the crowd to a silent reverie as he finished off "These Days" with Browne's potent last lines: "Don't confront me with my failures. I have not forgotten them."
He'll have no failures to remember from Monday night's show. It all moved along at a good pace, ballads segueing into rocking instrumental workouts and back again. A giant screen flashed a series of psychedelic images through some songs, undoubtedly a welcome aspect to many of the folks spotted dancing away in Grateful Dead shirts. For the most part, the crowd was sedate and seated, but there were always at least a few dancers on the edges, even for slower tunes like "The Brightest Smile in Town" and "Melissa." And as the show reached cruising speed at the end with clear crowd favorite "Midnight Rider" and a genuinely scorching version of "Love Like Kerosene," the number of dancers increased exponentially. "One Way Out" kept them on their feet to close down the show, save for one encore tune.
It was a little disappointing to have the show come to a close when it seemed the band had fully found its groove for the latter half of the night, but there's no complaining about the quality of what Spokane got in the concert delayed for a year due to Allman's health issues last summer. If he stays healthy and on the road, Allman remains a must-see.