When guitarists Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes announced in January that they would no longer perform with the Allman Brothers Band after this year, it wasn't clear what that meant. This iteration of the group had been together almost 15 years, longer than any other since the band's 1969 formation. Original members Gregg Allman, Jaimoe and Butch Trucks (Derek's uncle) would have to either add new members and forge on, as they had done before, or stop playing as the Allman Brothers.
For months, Butch and Allman sent mixed messages, as fans debated what could, should and would happen. In June, the end of an era finally came into view: The band announced it would play its last shows with a six-show run at New York's Beacon Theatre, the inevitable conclusion to a long-running rock opera at a venue that has become hallowed Allman Brothers ground (the band has sold out 238 shows there since 1989).
The first two nights (Oct. 21 and 22) at the Beacon were solid but unspectacular. Then, on Oct. 24, two Gibson Les Pauls that belonged to Duane Allman, the band's late leader, arrived from the Rock and Roll of Fame and animated the band, which played its best show in five years. Trucks and Haynes' playing took on more urgency, and Gregg sang with power and passion throughout the night. The burst of energy was testament to the remarkable influence Duane exerts on the act he founded, even 43 years after his death in a motorcycle accident in 1971.
The band played at close to this high level for two more nights, which left one final show on Oct. 28. Grandiose rumors circulated among fans: They would play four sets! They would play until sunrise! The hyperbole, in fact, turned out to be only a slight exaggeration. The band took the stage a little before 9 p.m. and played until about 1:30 a.m., with three full sets. Butch Trucks summoned the fire of a man five decades younger. Gregg Allman, who recently has seemed only intermittently interested onstage with this band, was fully present all night, singing as well as he has in years. The frontline of Haynes, Trucks and bassist Oteil Burbridge were perfectly locked in. The band started strong and took it even higher, turning in their finest, most intense show in decades.
As the show ticked past midnight into Oct. 29, the anniversary of Duane's death, the group brought the focus back to him, playing "Mountain Jam," one of his signature songs; "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Melissa," which were played at his funeral; and "Ain't Wasting Time No More," which Gregg wrote in response to his brother's death.
After an energetic encore of "Whipping Post," the group walked center stage arm in arm. It was stunning to see the taciturn Allman, who has gone whole Beacon runs without saying more than "thank y'all," take the mic and offer up eloquent words of reflection. When he said the band would say goodbye with the first song it ever played together, every die-hard in the theater (and there were few who did not fit that description) knew what was coming: a reinterpretation of Muddy Waters' "Trouble No More."
After the show, outside the Beacon, old friends hugged. Tears were shed. Crowds gathered at the backdoor, chanting each band member's name as he emerged into waiting vans. At last, Duane Allman's circle felt complete and unbroken.