I guess you must be blessed with a certain level of confidence to be playing Southern Rock that’s shot through with sunshine when your dad is one of the founding members of The Allman Brothers, even more so when you call your debut EP “Sketches Of American Music” – but if confidence isn’t something that Duane Betts is short of, then neither is talent. Because here, together with his band – largely interchangeable with tonight’s headliners – he is quite superb. “Downtown Runaround” is a wonderful rock n roll song, and “When We Get Home” has a glorious organ riff to go with its equally glorious lead. That one neatly turns into something of a jam, before “Ride It Out” – another of his own originals that sound somehow timeless – segues into the Allman’s “Revival”. Duane Betts, might be hewn from the classic rock, so to speak, but is very much his own man.
“We are gonna take you back to 1972 with this one” says Devon Allman, son of Gregg and a man immersed in rock n roll since before he was born, and with that they are into The Spinners funk hit, “I’ll Be Around.” The bass solo from Justin Corgan alone is enough to tell you that this isn’t going to be just some southern rock extravaganza.
Indeed, that had been largely evident since the start of the set. “Mahalo”, one of Allman’s songs with Honeytribe, gave notice that what you had here was a special band that was right on their musical game, and if “Alive” showed that he is a fine songwriter too, then that foray into funk was the first clue that when it comes to The Devon Allman Project, you probably aren’t going to get what you might have expected.
The show they play isn’t a celebration of one thing like many would make it, it is rather just a celebration of music itself. Band members come and go – Allman himself disappears at one point – each having their time in the spotlight. Duane Betts even gets to play one of his own songs, “Taking Time”, while keyboard man Nicholas David (who possesses a superbly soulful voice) offers his version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”
These mix in with “Left My Heart In Memphis” – a cover of the Royal Southern Brotherhood, the band that Allman was in with Mike Zito – and the Grateful Dead classic “Friend Of The Devil” together with The Allman Brothers “Blue Sky”, while Devon does a touching version of his dads “Multi-Coloured Lady” (a song written about his mum).
If all of that sounds a touch unfocused, then in truth it is. But it is meant to be. This is a jam band in the great tradition, Grateful Dead to Gov’t Mule and while personally, I might have preferred just a little more structure, there is no denying that the class of the musicianship shone through.
Allman has a walk around the venue as he plays the closing “Midnight Lake Michigan” and it is clear up close, that he loves doing what he does in this band, the crowd almost in quiet reverie at what they’re witness too.
The encore is a copper-bottomed classic. When I was a kid I heard Bon Jovi play “Midnight Rider” before the start of “Wanted (Dead Or Alive)” when they did it live. I’ve now, seen a more authentic rendition.
A veritable 90-minute journey rather than a mere concert. That was always, you suspect, the aim of The Devon Allman Project and here, they proved that for all their history, they are a band like no other.