Given the excesses, indulgences and shifting tastes that come with the job, rock bands aren’t generally around long enough to stage 40th anniversary tours, and if they are, it seldom amounts to more than a self-congratulatory tribute concert night after night.
Yet somehow these rules didn’t apply to the Allman Brothers Band at the Greek Theatre on Tuesday. Though they’ve weathered lineup changes and tragedies (especially the 1971 death of guitarist Duane Allman in a motorcycle accident), lone surviving brother and keyboardist Gregg Allman led a seven-piece band (often featuring three, count ‘em, three drummers) through an adventurous mix of virtuosic Southern rock and blues that continued and even built upon the band’s legacy.
Part of what allows Allman to pull off this time-defying sleight of hand is an infusion of new blood, most notably with gifted slide guitarist Derek Trucks, who was 10 years away from being born when the Allman Brothers released its self-titled debut.
But the stoic, baby-faced nephew of original and current drummer Butch Trucks fit the Allman profile perfectly with his long blond ponytail and Western shirt, to say nothing of his lightning-fueled solos as he traded lead duties with fellow guitarist Warren Haynes. (Haynes stepped in for the departed Dickey Betts, who split with the band as a result of “creative differences” in 2000.)
Together Haynes and Trucks have some tie-dyed die-hards saying the Allmans sound better than ever, exemplified Tuesday by a sprawling, 17-minute “Whipping Post” that stood tall against the fiery version from the band’s acclaimed “At Fillmore East” album, released the same year as Duane Allman’s death.
But to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, it was somewhere around when Bruce Willis joined the Brothers on harmonica when the drugs began to take hold.
Though not necessarily an accurate sentiment for most of the crowd (the opening act was the Doobie Brothers, after all), even the most sober in the audience must have felt like they were in the midst of a hallucinogenic experience -- or perhaps a wine cooler commercial -- as the onetime action star humbly stepped between Haynes and Trucks to contort his body through a surprisingly capable harp solo during “You Don’t Love Me.”
While Willis’ contribution might have been perplexing (if not entirely unheard of -- John Belushi joined the band onstage at the Greek in 1980), there was no such uncertainty in the reception for the evening’s other special guests.
After Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench sat with the silver-maned Allman for a wrenching, Haynes-led take on “The Sky Is Crying,” a denim-clad Tom Petty and fellow Heartbreaker Mike Campbell joined the band for a mini-salute to Dylan with rollicking takes on “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” and “Highway 61 Revisited,” with Petty’s drawling vocal perfectly capturing Dylan’s delivery.
For less ambitious musicians, such star-studded nods to the past could have felt like cheap nostalgia, but here they felt like a heartfelt celebration for a band that after so many years, changes and tours can still get a mixed-age crowd dancing in the aisles.
For one cool summer night, the term “classic rock” transcended any connotations of creative stasis and became something closer to its intended definition: timeless.