Photos by Lou Montesano
In auto racing, the driver gets the glory. In rock, it’s the singer and the guitar hero who become mythical — think Jagger/Richards, Page/Plant, et al. But just as a driver’s pit crew is essential to winning races, in rock it’s the rhythm section that maintains the engine and makes myth and magic possible.
So to witness master drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson (aka Jaimoe), the original duo who drove the Allman Brothers Band since its inception 47 years ago, together with fellow percussionist Marc Quinones, an ABB member since the band reunited in 1989, and Oteil Burbridge, the Brothers’ bassist since 1997, was magical in itself. Despite plenty of great live music throughout the five boroughs, there has been a hole in the New York music scene since the Allman Brothers Band played their final show at the Beacon Theater in 2014, but on a warm October night, across the river at Brooklyn Bowl, a bit of the old magic was back as the “core four” rhythm section joined forces with musicians from the extended ABB family to form Les Brers and satisfy the pent-up demand of jam band fans suffering from “Whipping Post” withdrawal.
Pit boss Butch Trucks has recruited complementary talent to drive the tunes and keep the ABB legacy moving forward. Most notable is Nashville-based guitar slinger Jack Pearson, who was a full-time Brother from 1997 through 1999 but was forced to leave the band because of health issues. Lamar Williams, Jr., son of the second ABB bassist who passed away in 1983, joins Les Brers as a vocalist, along with keyboardist Bruce Katz, another familiar face who sat in at numerous ABB shows, played in the Gregg Allman Band and now tours with Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band. Pat Bergeson, also from Nashville, completes the lineup on second guitar and blues harp, meshing with Pearson in the classic Duane and Dickey, Warren and Derek style.
It’s impossible to replace such legendary musicians, so best to think of Les Brers as a new iteration of a great American band that suffered more than its share of tragedies. The name is from the Eat A Peach instrumental “Les Brers in A Minor,” a combination of “some French and some redneck,” according to Trucks, that loosely translates as “the brothers.” These new Brers wasted no time diving deep into the ABB catalog and blowing the roof off the Brooklyn Bowl. “Hot ‘Lanta,” “Stand Back,” “Trouble No More” and “Blue Sky” launched the show, the rhythm section as punchy, sharp, fast and driving as ever. “Please Call Home” took Lamar, Jr. into the treacherous waters of a difficult Gregg Allman vocal that he managed to pull it off admirably. “Every Hungry Woman” was a joyous twin-guitar romp, with Pearson adding his own licks to one of the Allmans’ earliest compositions. Fresh off touring with Dead and Company, Oteil Burbridge displayed particular joy at finding himself back in the groove with his former bandmates. Bouncing, dancing and grinning from ear to ear, Oteil was clearly delighted to be making such uplifting, soul-touching music, bringing fresh energy and ideas to familiar tunes.
And so it went — from “Come and Go Blues” to the set-closing “Dreams,” during which Gregg Allman Band guitarist Scott Sharrard joined Pearson to take the jam to its highest height of the evening. After the traditional “Whipping Post” encore came one more song for the road — a smoking-hot “Southbound” that showcased Katz’s nimble piano work. And then the happy, danced-out crowd dispersed, smiling faces heading out into the Brooklyn night.
Despite multiple breakups and long hiatuses, the Allman Brothers Band survived deaths, drug abuse and destructive personal disputes by adding fresh talent to reinvigorate original members. It’s too early to tell what to expect from this ensemble, but the two new songs they performed on this particular night hinted at the ability to find new sonic routes. More than a tribute band but still not up to what came before them, will Les Brers be a short-lived reminder of past glory or develop into the Allman Brothers Band 4.0? Stay tuned, but one thing is for sure: catch ‘em while you can.