On the opening night of the first UK tour of the all-new Devon Allman Project expectation was high at The Fleece, Bristol. Many had seen Devon in his previous guises, with his band Honeytribe, his solo tours and with Royal Southern Brotherhood. What would the evening bring would it be Allman Brothers fuelled or something different? With two sons of Allman Brothers founder Greg Allman and Dickey Betts on stage together guitar sparks would surely fly, as Duane Betts and Devon Allman surrounded themselves with a phalanx of superb musicians. The two hold a legacy that would make many shy away from playing the music. Thankfully for the listening public, fans of live music that intrigues and excites they both have taken up the guitar and entertain around the world.
To open tonight would have to be something special, music that would build the feel for the main event Devon Allman’s Project. Who better to step on the stage that Duane Betts. This was a musical starter a taster of the rest of the evening. Duane was joined by slide guitarist John Stachela and introduced us to the rhythm section we would be hearing later in the evening. For just over half-an-hour the Fleece was enthralled as they watched the six-string ‘Gold-Top Les Paul weave its magic under the fingers of Betts. This was shredding with style and purpose. The set was an insight into his latest album Sketches of American Music, with a couple of tracks including Taking Time and Ride It Out. And a reworking of Rolling Stones’ Silver Train. This set was certainly a glittering ride through the tones and shapes that Duane can twist and cajole from his six-strings with snatches of dirty vibrato to send shivers of delight throughout the Fleece in Bristol.
Short break and the lights went up again and The Project filled the stage and Devon joined them to enthusiastic cheers as he said hello Bristol on the first night of this leg of the tour. Opening an evening that would ebb and flow through the past and Fleece was ready, this was simply superb. Surge into the possibilities of what lays on the musical road ahead for a project that amazes. Devon’s musicians within the project all add a dimension of sound that weaves its own personal tonal shaping magic into the cauldron of sounds and sonic energy. The band around Devon are Jackson Stokes whose guitar whispers and soars as the solos take on a new shape of Gibson wonderment. Why have one guitarist when you can add into the tonal mix of the six-string glory of Duane Betts and slide guitarist John Stachela. The rhythm section was a complexity of dexterous beats and rhythms that gave the music a base to build from whilst adding excitement. The threesome of bassist Justin Corgan, drummer John Lum and percussionist R. Scott Bryan with Nicholas David adding to the party with explosive soulful keyboard action and vocals. The project is a myriad of tonal shapes and melodic interplay.
How to start a night of so much promise, how to keep the heritage but forge a new sound? By mixing the music up, by giving everyone space to shape their own music into a cohesive whole. Devon Allman is the man to orchestrate this challenge. Opening with instrumental Mahalo from his Honeytribe days, this is a number where guitars do the singing, shaping of emotional outbursts and provide a connection to fans of American music that bends the genres, is genre agnostic, they just play to have fun and entertain the audience. This they did tonight with every note played and lyric sung.
Having listened we heard the music flow with an intensity, power and diversity of tones and textures that made us all genre blind tonight we just felt the vibe and energy course through or musical DNA. This was a Live music experience. Do not expect an Allman Brothers Clone. Do not expect music that is any easily pigeonholed style. Expect Glorious Music. Expect class delivery of Gibsons, Fenders and vocals combining and fusing creating music that fills your soul with joy. The band hit the ground running and with a quick hello Bristol we were into Alive. We felt alive in this stimulating company. The setlist flowed the music ensured that outside of this moment Nothing Mattered Anymore, a number that the band absolutely smashed. With Allman Brothers numbers including a stripped back Melissa with Devon on Acoustic and his vocal prowess filling every nook and cranny of the Fleece. With enthusiastic audience participation adding another sonic dimension on I’ll Be Around, a number full of solos that re-shaped the definition of this Spinner’s number what a moment to have been there and heard the music live. The slide from John was stellar he made the slide work creating sounds that sent pure shivers of delight down your spine as the hairs were raised on the back of your arm. Royal Southern Brotherhood’s Left My Heart in Memphis, suited that depth and breadth of sounds the project cajole out of the array of instruments.
We had an instrumental jam as Devon left the stage and the musician’s interplay was full of magic. Into this mix, we heard Nicholas David do a soulful Lean on Me as keys and vocals collided in perfect high energy harmony. As Devon returned to the stage chairs were arranged and the three guitarists and bassist all sat down to play Grateful Dead’s Friend of The Devil. The music flowed and all too soon it was time for the encore, tonight’s was a stunning delivery of Don Henley’s The Boys of Summer. A perfect finale as these are for me the boys of the Summer as the season fades into Autumn.
With the music silenced, now was the opportunity for people to talk and reminisce about the Allman Brothers with Devon Allman & Duane Betts who have picked up the baton and are re-shaping the music to be contemporary, exciting and not constrained by the past or expectations of others.
Thank you for the music come back to Bristol real soon, with an album of the Project’s music so we can keep playing the sound you create while waiting for the next live show.