CD Review: The Allman Brothers Band – The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
Let me just get this out of the way right now; I do not consider myself a “jam band” fan. I have never been to a Phish concert. I am not a Grateful Dead fan. The both times I saw Primus live I wanted to kill myself. As punk rocker/new wave aficionado, I can’t typically get into any band whose idea of a good time includes a drum solo that lasts more than one minute.
That being said, I think that The Allman Brothers’ At The Filmore East, an album known primarily for it’s lengthy “jam” sessions, is one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time.
A little Duane Allman goes a long fucking way in my book.
Already re-released and re-packaged several times over, the legendary album has once again gotten the deluxe treatment, this time as a definitive six CD super deluxe box set entitled The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings. Featuring all five of the groups 1971 performances at the historic venue, including one that was completely unreleased until now, it features 37 tracks in all (17 never-before-released) that showcase just how goddamn unstoppable The Allman Brothers Band was in the early 1970s.
These performances should be required listening to any patchouli-smelling, hemp-wearing stoner with jam band aspirations. Because they demonstrate exactly what makes a jam band great; that they’re jamming to get the audience off, not themselves.
Every single note of every single song, from the rather straight-forward renditions of the blistering “Trouble No More” and “Statesboro Blues,” the bone-shattering brilliant epic extensions of classics like “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” and “Whipping Post” (both of which are represented four times throughout the set), is played with such intensity and power, and incredibly consistency, that it’s just…I can’t find the words. If I keep praising this record I feel like I’m going to start embarrassing myself.
Oh well, won’t be the first time.
I, like many an Allman Brothers fan, first fell in love with the group thanks to the live version of “Whipping Post” that was included on the original Fillmore LP. As I mentioned before, here the song is presented four times over, having been played at all but one of the shows included in the set (man, I would’ve been pissed if I went to the one where they didn’t play it). Listening to all four versions back-to-back, which I did (it took about an hour) serves as a great lesson to how a band can mix up a live performance while making it sound familiar at the same time.
All four versions are very similar, no great liberties are taken with the basic structure of the song, but the little differences come to light upon repeated listenings. Solos branch out in different ways, the timing is slightly different, even variations in the drumming begin to rise to the surface. But they all click back into place in the same places, the crescendos at the end are nearly identical each time through. They knew exactly what they were doing every single time, they weren’t a band, they were a machine.
If you do want some added variation in your gob-smackingly long jams though, don’t worry, that comes with “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed.” Of the jam tracks that are represented multiple times, this is the one that changes the most, one version has an extended quiet interlude that isn’t present on the others, while another features a surprise contribution on saxophone (which also appears on a version of “Whipping Post,” but is far less prominent). Again, these deviations and variations don’t sound like experiments or diversions devised on the spot by a band with no direction, they sound like perfectly-rehearsed, impeccably-planned sets, almost like orchestral compositions in their integrity and perfection. Now, were they that planned and that well-thought out? Probably not. But they sound like they are, and that’s the important part. And they make it all sound so fucking easy it’s just not fair.
There are three flavors of this one floating around, a 6CD edition, 3 Blu-ray audio version, and a 4LP box set. I recommend buying the 6CD edition, because that’s the most convenient and complete. The Blu-ray version may (big emphasis on may) have the best audio quality and a brand new 5.1 surround sound mix, but it doesn’t have any way to get the files off the disc, either in uncompressed FLAC or MP3. That means that if you want to listen to the album on your headphones or in your car you’re out of luck. And at $85, nearly $20 more than the CD set, it doesn’t seem worth it. The vinyl version does come with a download code, but it’s not complete, and only features the 13 tracks that are included on the 4LP set. I get why they didn’t put the whole box set on LP, but when you’re paying just as much for the 4LP set as you are for the 6CD edition, you should get the same amount of music.
Format quibbles aside, this is an absolutely essential release and a must own for damn near anyone on Earth who has ears. Buy it.