The Allman Brothers Band
One Way Out: Live At The Beacon Theatre
here are two kinds of live albums: archival and transformative. Archival are those that might as well be stamped “fans only”. They attempt to capture the actual experience of seeing the band live. The transformative live album, though, is one that sifts through the performances in question and selects the best, in an effort to paint the band in a particular light. Think of the Clash’s From Here To Eternity, which culled performances from over the years to present the band as the only one that matters.
One Way Out is both. It’s an archival two-disc set that contains more than enough material to be transformative. One that could have proven that the modern Allmans are worth your time.
My appreciation for guitar rock, from Television’s Marquee Moon to Spacemen 3’s The Perfect Prescription, is rooted in the Allmans: I grew up with them, learned to love “Whippin’ Post” as a little kid, and unlike (for example) the Grateful Dead, they never seemed like a tepid jam band to me. They’re classic rock, yes, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater because once you’ve assessed what they’ve done and the influence they’ve had it’s hard to argue that they’re not among the greatest rock bands ever.
While former contemporaries limp around the country in diluted forms (yes, “Lynyrd Skynyrd”, I am referring to you), the Allmans have gone through at least as much tragedy and still function. Derek Trucks, the son of one of their drummers, somehow turned into the most impressive young guitarist I’ve heard, Gregg Allman somehow survived Cher and drugs with skills and voice intact, and even when they kicked Dickey Betts out they found a decent replacement in Warren Hayes (although Betts’ irreplaceable playing is and will always be missed—hearing the interplay between him and Trucks was utterly incredible). The current line-up is the strongest since Duane Allman died, and live they put on as good a show as they ever did.
But sitting at home, most of us don’t need eighteen songs. In fact, we don’t need more than six; five old songs, because the Allmans never lapse into rote readings, and an inspired ten-minute take on the recent “Desdemona”, easily the best thing Gregg Allman has written in decades. And in those five, you have to have “Dreams” and “Whippin’ Post” (a combined twenty-eight minutes) because the Allmans live without them would be like, well, Television without “Little Johnny Jewel” or Spacemen 3 without “Suicide”.
People who have consigned the Allmans to the trashheap of nostalgia jam acts might be surprised by the fire and skill that comes through on these performances, “Don’t Keep Me Wondering” and Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More” pared down to the bare essentials of guitar jaggedness, organ and surging percussion over the decades, “Midnight Rider” here performed with perfect weariness. The rest of the album’s performances are good, but over two-and-a-half hours there’s too much that’s merely pleasant for non-believers.
Which is fine; the concerts at the Beacon in New York are for the converted, and so is the album. But as someone who falls somewhere in between the hardcore fans and the guy who likes hearing “Ramblin’ Man” or “Melissa” on the radio, there’s enough that’s truly great for One Way Out to be frustrating. For now, I’ll have to resort to At Fillmore East as my preferred example of the band’s greatness.