The Tunnels is spread across two subterranean arches under Aberdeen, and many young and new bands cut their teeth there. The room was slowly filling up for Devon Allman’s headline gig in February, and was packed by the time the music was due to start.
First up was Glaswegian, Gus Munro. He put in a power of work as a one man band. His performance was stripped back, just guitar and vocals. It was bluesy but subdued, then gradually more powerful and ballsy. There were tasteful, mournful soloes, delicate but packing a punch. He was definitely a multifaceted performer. He then sat down on a chair with a bass drum in front of him. With the thump of the latter, the crowd could get into it. One song got raucous and the crowd loved it, heads nodding.
Things got yet more complicated, but his playing was still comfortable and the songs weren’t outwith the reach of his capabilities. He now had a hi-hat in use, and there were whoops of appreciation from the crowd. Much time was spent placing the voice of the Glaswegian, eventually settling upon the fact he sounded a bit like Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham. Bluesy, rocky, emotive and vulnerable. Thumping bass drum in tandem with the crowd’s clapping hands closed his set.
Headlining was Texan Devon Allman with his band, made up of himself as vocalist/guitarist plus guitarist, bassist and drummer. Devon’s, of course, son of Gregg Allman, one half of The Allman Brothers Band. For a lot of the laymen out, there they’re perhaps better known for 1973’s “Jessica”, also known as the motoring programme Top Gear’s theme tune. Anyway, moving on.
The stage was moody, billowing with smoke as “Half The Truth” begins. It started with a flurry, flourishes, of drums before kicking in. Crowd reaction was sizeable and loud. The band were like a hard rock and blues hybrid. The guitar solo was vibrant and devoid of wankery. There was much adlibbing to see off song.
“Can’t Lose ‘Em All” followed, and was laidback and soulful, though the singing still bluesy. The essence of the song seemed like being upbeat, and dealing with whatever problems come your way. A subdued guitar solo came around, but it still had plenty of flavour; a searching one from the gut. Crowd appreciation was to the maximum.
Drums introduced the first few bars of “Mahalo” before the rest of the band kicked in and featured an extended guitar lead. It felt heroic and expressive, Allman a hell of a player. Even when the track reached one of its more delicate and quieter moments, the band still stole the show. There was even a drum and bass break, which somehow gave the whole thing a Latin flavour.
Then the following guitar song got wild; scintillating. Devon was a true class act in that, what seemed, a pork pie hat. The aforementioned break featured busy bass that calmly underpinned the whole thing, giving the song dynamics with the volume going right down so the crowd could breathe. The solo and guitar melodies were slowly getting louder, then crescendo. It was a real crowd pleaser with an uber heavy ending, really wringing the song for all it’s worth. This before kicking back into the introduction, coming full circle.
The “Forever Man” was next and was nice, groovy and syncopated. The power of his voice really shone through. Much time was spent placing the origins of the track, eventually settling upon the fact Eric Clapton performed it during his more commercially conscious material of the Eighties. It turns out Allman’s fellow Texan, the late Jerry Lynn Williams, wrote the track which Warner Brothers in turn suggested to Clapton as potential single material. The reworking Allman and his band did ensured the track didn’t age in the slightest, dispensing with the keyboard part for the main riff; just bass and two guitars. It was triumphant and had a guitar solo that got really busy.
“Old Bob Marley song we have, here”. And so begun “No Woman, No Cry”, with extended guitar introduction straight from the heart. There seemed a touch of Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge in Allman’s voice; powerful, deep and gutsy. His own expressive and rooted in the South. Come that famous chorus, a Sunday night Aberdeen crowd usually and unfairly described as reticent sang its heart out. Allman’s guitarist got his chance to shine, cutting it up with his own solo.
“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”. Then the volume dropped down, you could hear a whisper. Whooping applause came from the audience. Only the voice of Allman rung out, the punters responding with that famous chorus. There was a touch of Sam & Dave in his voice. More so Samuel David Moore, maybe? Once that showstopper ended, only five numbers into the set, number six began.
“Back To You” was a tumbling, down on your luck sort of song. This featured crunching guitars that heralded a subsequent dirty and gritty guitar solo by the hands of the man on the shiny Les Paul. Then there was “Left My Heart In Memphis”, a song he did with Royal Southern Brotherhood in 2012. Dreamy and contemplative guitar melodies washed over the audience.
There was also some chugging twelve bar blues, straight in without any introduction. What turned out to be “Checkin’ On My Baby” was a song that had the bass and drums locked in together, tight. These were left to breathe awhile but not for long, as a solo quickly came to the fore, ripping through the rhythm section. There was no stopping the axemen, never running out of licks.
That passed and the drums and bass locked back in, again, accompanied by vocals until a bass solo. This was thick and jazzy. Some brave and unusual playing. Clever dynamics pushed the song in another direction, and it became so quiet all you could hear were the sticks hitting the rim of the snare. The whole band ripped into the track, again, before ending.
Thick, deep and full of blues rock, “Could Get Dangerous” appeared to detail the strife of everyday life. This was another opportunity for Allman’s guitarist to trade lead superiority with Allman, that’s until Devon came in and traded licks of his own. The bass was simple, merely locking in with drums, settling the song so the crowd could breathe, as it were. Again, dynamics were at play. A polished band is never one hundred percent improvised, but the better they are, the better the illusion of improvising is.
“Thanks for supporting real music”. This was the prelude to “I’ll Be Around”. This provided the bassplayer one of his chances to shine so far that night, since the third track in the set and his prior bass solo. “I’ll Be Around” seemed hopeful and acknowledging potholes in life’s path. Cool solo; powerful and soulful.
With a title like “Midnight Lake Michigan”, you’d maybe be forgiven for not knowing the link between the eerie and midwestern America. There’s indeed a spaced out and spooky vibe, though. Devon had requested from the sound engineer more delay, and you could see why. This eventually grinded to a crescendo before a crunching solo kicked in.
The delayed effect conjured a disorientating and blinkered feeling, as if hit over the head with a hammer and trying to regain the normality of your senses. Right on the dancefloor Allman was amongst the crowd ripping into one of his trademark soloes. It had the guts of the blues, really tragic.
“Here I Stand” is where things got a bit mental. A song kicked in, sounding good. Pounding and funky. Then things digressed to “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, but before it even started the drums fell dead. Much the same with Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. Then both Allman brothers were there in spirit for a super quick rendition of “Jessica”. Led Zeppelin were then reprised for “Stairway To Heaven”. Perhaps this smorgasbord of tunes were in response to that man in the crowd that shouted for a five song encore.
With the lighting went crazy, like a fit inducing rave. What followed was a standard blues rock, though perhaps not the most obvious twelve bar blues you’ll ever heard. Was there a touch of Spanish in the guitar solo? This was followed by a much more appealing bass solo than last heard. Bending and roaring were the words to describe the subsequent guitar solo. Indeed they squeezed every last ounce out of everything that night.
David Allman’s back catalogue, and 2014’s Ragged & Dirty, and can be purchased here. Keep tabs on Allman on Facebook and Twitter.
Words by Andrew Watson