Review by Richard Brody
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Dickey Betts – founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer and, with the late Duane Allman, half of arguably the greatest two-guitar tandem in the history of rock ‘n’ roll – brought his band Great Southern to Albany’s Alive at Five in Riverfront Park for a trip down memory lane.
It was impossible not to think Allmans with the band’s set-up – two drums, keyboards, bass and guitars – and a set list that was anchored in the classic “Live at Fillmore East” and augmented by the follow-ups “Eat a Peach” and “Brothers and Sisters.” That said, the band seemed to have a good time playing, and the sizeable audience danced, bounced and sang along during the hour and 40-minute set.
Betts and band wasted no time in letting us know what we were in for, starting with a lengthy (is there any other rendition?) of the instrumental “High Falls” and then moving into “Statesboro Blues,” which featured some nice slide work by Andy Aledort (who was a good foil for Betts all evening) and a tight rhythm section led by the syncopated drumming of Frankie Lombardi and James Varnado with Pedro Arevalo on bass.
However, Mike Kach’s vocals seemed buried in the mix. You could hear him, but if you didn’t know the song, you would have had very little idea about the lyrics being sung. It could have been my old ears or perhaps it is the difficulty of properly mixing the sound for a loud, seven-piece band that doesn’t bury the vocals at times. But of course, the set was really about generating instrumental fireworks, and we got a healthy dose of that.
A lengthy reggae-style introduction to “Blue Sky” eventually gave way to the trademark note-ringing solos of Betts’ country-flavored guitar playing that led back to the vocals and then the first of several big instrumental song endings. “Elizabeth Reed,” with its complex, dual melody lines, was one of the evening’s highlights. About halfway through the song, Aledort was having some technical difficulty, so he handed the reins over to the third guitarist Duane Betts, and the band played on without missing a beat. Although I missed the Allmans’ trademark Hammond B3, the piano work by Kach lightened the feel of the song and gave it a slightly different coloring. This was followed by a solid performance of “One Way Out” that gave Betts several opportunities to build the tension in the song with his solos.
What would a day of jamming and improvisation be without going over the top? “Jessica” provided just the opportunity with nice soloing by Kach and all three guitar players that included some back and forth “guitar talk” among the three that eventually segued into some sampling of “Mountain Jam.” The band eventually wound its way back to “Jessica” with some trademark Betts riffs, finishing with an ending that seemed to not want to end. The entire band was on fire for this one, and the audience gave it up with a standing ovation. The evening ended with the obligatory “Ramblin Man,” and while well played and sung, it didn’t match some of what came before it.
It was good to get another chance to hear Betts’ instantly recognizable voice on guitar. Whether he needs a band with two drummers and two additional guitarists is debatable. What isn’t debatable is the speed, fluidness and melodic ideas that he brings to his playing.
Kirsten Thien and her band opened with a 35-minute set that showcased her latest release “Delicious,” combining elements of blues, rock and pop. Some of the highlights of her set included “Nobody’s Ever Loved Me,” the soulful “Taxi Love” and the sexy blues of “Please Drive.” While she mines territory that has been explored by others – Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi and Joan Osborne come to mind – Thien is her own woman and well worth a listen.
Fred Rudofsky’s review and photographs of the Kirsten Thien Band at Nippertown
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: The third song of the show, ‘Bluesky,’ was the best. Betts vocals were not strong, but they were good enough, and he lit into his solo for the first time in the show, making it immediately worthwhile for anyone who traveled from far or near to see him. The standard tunes and solos were rearranged a bit to keep things interesting and fresh for Betts, his band and the audience. His son Duane is one of two guitarists who support him, but Betts held the spotlight through most of the show. Despite his falling out with the Allmans, Betts does not shy away from that band’s early tunes, including ‘Statesboro Blues,’ a great ‘One Way Out,’ and ‘You Don’t Love Me,’ from the Allman’s breakout live album at the Fillmore East, which makes any list for best live album of all time. Betts snuck in a few obscure guitar phrases from that album, just to hit a note for his more loyal fans.”
DICKEY BETTS & GREAT SOUTHERN SET LIST
You Don’t Love Me
Nothing You Can Do
One Way Out
Nobody to Run With