For decades, supporters of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band have been debating which group is better at blues-rock instrumental jams. The Allmans always seemed to have an edge, an opinion that was supported by their show at the Wiltern Theatre on Tuesday.
Even in peak form, the Dead never quite soared like that.
For more than three hours, the Allmans, featuring original members Gregg Allman (organ), Dickey Betts (lead guitar) and drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe, tirelessly delivered jam after glorious jam and had the audience screaming for more.
Opening its four-night engagement, the seven-man unit played both old material and tunes from their new album, "Where It All Begins." But the songs didn't matter. They were just jumping off points for those marvelously rambling improvisations. At times the musicianship was simply stunning.
These intense and seamless jams, powered by a three-man percussion crew, roared in many different directions--encompassing jazz, soul, country and folk--but were always drenched in blues. Occasionally Betts and Allman provided vocals that were really just needless decorations. The jams would have worked just as well without them.
For the nostalgia-oriented, the show had an early-'70s feel, with psychedelic images pulsing on the screen at the back of the stage and pot smoke enveloping the theater. In keeping with that theme, the Allmans played about as well as they did back in those days.
* The Allman Brothers Band plays Friday and Saturday at the Wiltern Theatre, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., 7:30 p.m. $40 and $25. (213) 380-5005. Sunday at Hyatt Grand Champions Concert Village, 44-600 Indian Wells Lane, Indian Wells, 7 p.m. $30 and $22.50. (619) 220-8497.