Devon Allman and Duane Betts continue to put their own mark on American music as their new “Down by the River” tour continued with a transcendent gig at the Norva Theater in Norfolk, Virginia. While. They were keyboardist and drummer respectively of Hall of Fame Southern rock band The Allman Brothers. While their Allman Brothers legacy is undoubtedly a draw for audiences (Devon is son of the late Gregg Allman and Duane is the son of Dickey Betts), The Allman Betts Band is determined to succeed on its own. What stands out is how hard they swing while at the same time showing singular grace in their music and performance. The entire band is a forceful team of youngish veterans, all of whom have hard-won playing credentials that energized the Nova stage with a mix of Allman Betts Band originals and Allman Brothers and other covers, including Prince’s “Purple Rain,” a crowd favorite.
The set rocked but was silky smooth and transitioned from jam to Southern soul to spare, heartfelt ballad to the sheen of Muscle Shoals. The leaders’ voices are different in compelling ways, a deep mahogany tone in Allman and a higher key yearning edge in Betts’ sweet, clear vocals.
The Allman-Betts Band began with a tune of their own, “Airboats ‘n Cocaine,” a rock and roll delight with a ballad core. The song’s lyrics evoked adventure and loss through thoughtful words and Betts’ expressive tones, moving softly his gaunt body and long hair that curled at his shoulders.
Allman took his turn at lead with “Good Old Days,” bending his body in a hard grind and flexing his tattoos with a deeper voice but similar intensity to his partner, bringing waves of melody and crisp, tearing guitar. Both men make guitars compliant to groove from the most complex and hard-driving to the smooth and golden.
Allman Brothers songs included “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” and “Blue Sky.” And, “Jessica” floated on waves over and under, back and then over and under again. These included melodic lines that many in the crowd, of more than one generation, have grown up hearing as part of the cultural fabric, heard in numerous soundtracks that have become a communal riff.
At the interior of the Allman Betts Band is the added intensity of another legacy player from The Allman Brothers Band, Berry Duane Oakley, son of the late founding bass player for the Allman’s, Berry Oakley. Oakley anchors the band with veteran flare, along with drummers on two large and varied drum kits.
Hard-charging slide guitar player Johnny Stachela often soloed on stretches of fluid, driving guitar. Everyone has his creds, with John Ginty on keyboards, who was a founding member of The Robert Randolph Band and had subbed for Gregg Allman and also took solos at times as did the band’s book-end super drummers, John Lum and R. Scott Bryan.
Leading off were The Jackson Stokes Band and J. D. Simo, formerly of SIMO, two bands with a varied repertoire of songs, both with a penchant for impressively hard and complex guitar shredding.
Throughout the set, The Allman Betts Band, with the advantage of history and the energy of fresh beginnings played and sang with a well-oiled groove that often yielded glimpses of eternity.