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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Allman Brothers, "At Fillmore East"

The Allman Brothers
"At Fillmore East"
Capricorn (1971)

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die + 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

The Allman Brothers’ “At Fillmore East” stands as one of the most acclaimed live albums of all time. And that’s good. Because without it, the group didn’t stand a chance at getting the recognition and accolades it enjoys today. The truth is, they struggled to deliver when it came to singles and being radio friendly.

Prior to recording “At Fillmore East,” the group recorded two studio albums that failed to make a dent in the public’s listening agenda. It’s hard to blame the public. The singles and songs off of their first two albums lack the luster of the performances on “Fillmore.” Listen to a recording of “Whipping Post” on an Allman Brothers greatest hits compilation, and you’ll hear a middling song at best.

Although the group stuck to its southern blues roots, organist and vocalist Gregg Allman lacked the soulfulness to sell band’s style, especially in comparison to other blues artists was the ability to improvise.

“Improvise” is putting it lightly however. The Allman Brothers are justifiably an all-out jam band when it’s at its peak. Gregg is a more than competent organ player, and his brother Duane (ranked the second best guitarist ever by Rolling Stone) and Dicky Betts trade guitar solos and parts as if they were a single entity playing two guitars. The “jam” aspect is that their improve sessions stretched five minute tracks like “Whipping Post” into 23-minute behemoths.

What is truly incredible is that tracks like “Whipping Post” and the equally daunting “You Don’t Love Me” (19-minutes) is they never get boring. Part of this is the band’s aforementioned awareness to each other, but equally important is their blueprint for breaking up songs. Some jams by other artists open with a theme, rock for ten or so minutes, and then close with the original theme, but the Allmans punctuate the song with Gregg singing the chorus. Both of the songs mentioned above feature three instrumental bridges, only called so because they connect choruses. The refrains are like an archipelago in the middle of an immense sea of improvisation.

The jams made this, understandably, the live-album tour de force that it is. The band would have occasional success with singles (including “Jessica,” perhaps their most well known track, a tribute to Duane, who would die in a motorcycle accident shortly after “At Fillmore East” went gold), but this album will always stand as its masterpiece. Never was this more obvious than when the band played a show at Fillmore in March 2011 with Gregg still at the helm and newcomers like Derek Trucks (nephew of original band drummer, Butch Trucks) on guitar. The performance gained the same raves as its predecessor, 40 years earlier.

INTERESTING FACT: “At Fillmore East” was compiled from a four night stretch the band played at the New York City concert hall. On one of the nights, a bomb scare pushed the start of the concert back several hours. The band would end up playing a full set, leaving the stage at 6 a.m.

Whipping Post (live) by The Allman Brothers Band on Grooveshark

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