The Allman Brothers Band: The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings

fillmore

The Allman Brothers Band
The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
(Mercury/Universal)
5 out of 5 stars

“I hope this comes out pretty good, we’re cutting our third album here tonight,” says Gregg Allman before the opening “Statesboro Blues” kicks off a four set weekend that would yield the original Allman Brothers Band’s finest recorded moments. However, his humble, almost timid introduction seems absurdly understated hearing it some 43 years after it was uttered.

The resulting third album, The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East, became not only a Southern blues/rock classic, but has remained arguably the finest release in the band’s extensive and storied catalog. Certainly the untimely deaths of founder/guitarist Duane Allman in 1971 and bassist Berry Oakley a year later loom large on this long anticipated six disc package that presents each set and song, in chronological order, of that momentous weekend of March 12-13, 1971.

There is no question that after road testing their material for 300 nights over the previous year, the Brothers were locked and loaded for this gig. And even though they were just the opening act for Johnny Winter (his drummer Bobby Caldwell sits in on a few of the 14 previously unreleased tunes), you don’t hear anyone talking about the headliner on these dates. Not everything worked—an experiment adding a poorly mixed and under rehearsed soprano sax to both versions of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” from the first night results in some ear cringing moments that sound like constipated goose farts—but the finest performances of the weekend are some of the most unforgettable of any live album ever recorded.

The band’s closing Fillmore East show from June, 1971 is also included, but since that has been easily available for years, it seems unnecessary here.  The majority of these tracks have dribbled out over the decades but this is the first time the complete shows are available in all their unedited, warts-and-all glory. Duane is absolutely on fire, his slide skills make the guitar sing even in some of the less stellar tracks, Gregg sings like the force of nature he is and the rest of the group hits a communal peak that finds them in their undiluted prime; young, hungry, tight, committed and with plenty to prove. The jam sections, even on 17-22 minute versions of “Whipping Post,” “You Don’t Love Me” and “….Elizabeth Reed” seldom extend past their breaking points and the group plays like the road hardened, well-oiled machine they were.

Why it has taken so long to release these legendary tapes is unclear, but now that they are here, fans who have considered these the holy grail of the Allman’s music can rejoice. Those new to the pleasures of the Fillmore East music might consider sticking with the less expensive options available (this 6 CD box runs about $70, the 3 disc Blu-Ray/surround sound, $100). Also, the song repetition –five versions of “Statesboro Blues,” four of “…Elizabeth Reed,” “Done Somebody Wrong,” “Whipping Post” etc.—shifts it into hardcore territory.  But after many reissues of much of this material, The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings is likely the final word on one of the most unforgettable weekends in rock history.

It’s clear that Gregg had nothing to be concerned about … it certainly came out pretty good.