Allman Brothers, Wet Willie: Cincinnati Gardens, Cincinnati, Ohio

DON’T KNOW how it is up in those choice stageside seats you pro critics reputedly get your asses greased with, but auditing a rock concert from the dismal reaches of Row HH is a pretty strenuous business these days. (And I ain’t talking about boogieing in the aisles, either.) Nope, today’s prole for a night audiences are beginning to rival those of Shakespeare’s Globe for general rowdiness and hi-jinx. Take several thousand Midwestern, affluent late teens, bluejean’d and suburbanized, touched with smatterings of Abbie Hoffman’s cry for Free Music and everybody’s post-Cream adulation for The Superstar, put them in an imbecilic hockey arena like Cincinnati Gardens, douse the house lights, and you get Jann Wenner’s Little Acre, Altamont in a Test Tube.

Darkness falls, and immediately the phalanxes of hippieboppers charge through the aisles, their folding chairs held high like shields, jousting for spots closer to the Living Presence on stage. The back rows steadily gained floor throughout the warm up band the other evening, but my companions and I (stolid, authoritarian personality Teutons that we are) clung precariously to our legally-assigned spots among the flood of crowders. Pride goeth before a fall, of course, as we were soon confronted by a lithe blonde lass in impeccable blazer and cuffed pants, who announced cheerfully, in a Miss Teenage America contestant honey-tone “You’re in our seats.” She had enlisted a black cop, who stood by with billy club ready, eager to enforce propriety by driving out such obvious gatecrashers as us for the lovely M.T.A… Comparison of ticket stubs by the policeman’s flashlight didn’t convince this wench, as she had some even more unimpeachable proof of her righteousness: “Our Friends are beside you,” she concluded, with a triumphant smile (“Our Friends” carrying a lot of weight among the local folkways, as no Cincinnati teen ever goes to a concert without at least fifteen of his Walnut Hills classmates.) (“You bitch,” I was thinking but not saying, blowing out a few more cells according to the Mailers Theorem; “Of course they’re beside us now, because they sneaked up about nine rows in the last few minutes!”) Good luck prevailed, though, as the cop was diverted by the more urgent task of clearing the fire exits, and Miss T.A. spotted some vacant seats nearby, to which she (still composed and cheerful) led her abashed male companion.

Seats HH-1, -2, and -3 thus valiantly defended and held, we settled back to enjoying the whole purpose of the evening’s exertions, hearing and seeing an eagerly anticipated Rebel Rock double feature, Wet Willie and the Allman Brothers. Lemme tell you, Wet Willie really live up to those few but unreservedly enthusiastic raves they’ve gotten in the various zines. Like their Capricorn mates the Allmans, Wet Willie play eminently familiar blues standards (Are you ready for another ‘It Hurts Me Too’?), but with a special bite and feeling which make them eons more interesting than those by pedestrian sloggers like Edgar Winter. Lead Willie, Jimmy Hall, gets a lot of spotlight for his virtuoso voice, harp, and sax, and thus tends to resemble his countryman Mylon, of Holy Smoke fame, but unlike Mylon, Hall don’t (repeat, don’t) preach about Jesus & Woodstock between numbers — jes’ thunders into new ones. Besides, Hall would have a hard time outstepping the Willies’ ultrafunk rhythm section. Of special note to punk rock connoisseurs is the Willies’ electric pianist, whose short, superslicked hair makes him look like a ghost from the Hombres. Which is of course fitting and natural for this latest band in that Southern kickass tradition.

In an era when rock bands perpetually fragment, dissolve, and regroup over the exigencies of ego, it’s heartening to hear the Allman Brothers, who have survived not just petty defections, but the actual deaths of two of their key members, and who keep coming on as strong as ever. The Allman Brothers are now back to full strength, having added a new bassist and pianist (sorry I didn’t catch your names, guys; Gregg Allman’s announcement was lost somewhere in the Gardens’ wretched rafters) to eliminate some of the instrumental doubling-up which had resulted from the respective losses of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley.

Gregg Allman started the evening on rhythm guitar, but soon shifted to his accustomed organ to direct the band with its swirling charts and his lusty vocals. Dicky Betts has really come to the fore of the new Allman Band, and commanded a lot of the admiration of this ravenous for a superstar audience with his Kingish guitar runs. Gone are the mouth-watering Duane and Dicky, slide and lead harmony runs, of course, but Betts’ new single line lunges are just as effective in carrying the Allmans’ essential blues message. ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’, ‘Stormy Monday’, ‘Midnight Rider’ (“This is a Joe Cocker Tune,” sez Gregg wryly), all the Allman standards lived on as Jai Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks pounded out the rhythms on their twin drum sets. And then at last the orgams, the apocalyptic encore, a 19-minute ‘Whipping Post’, the thunderous chords crashing through the dim cannabis-smog over the heads of the multitudes assembled on their folding chairs, standing for a final glimpse of the killer rockers we Southern Ohioans are privileged to see too infrequently.

Which brings me back to my wordy intro. If you had been in my Thom McAn boots, Abbie, would you have given your seat to that girl? A blonde shikse, remember, not to mention your Free Music doctrine — can’t let them kapitalist Belkin Bros. make too much swag off this show. You would? Screw it, Abbie, and another Townshend guitar-blow to your tum with my Eversharp. When the Allmans are in town, I ain’t giving up my seat to nobody!

© Richard RiegelPhonograph Record, March 1973

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