At Fillmore East
The Allman Brothers Band
Chart Peak: #13
Weeks Charted: 47
Certified Gold: 10/25/71
That rarity on the contemporary rock scene -- an integrated group from the Deep South -- the Allman Brothers Band has for a couple of years rivaled the Braves for Atlanta's affections the way the J. Geils Band stole the Red Sox following (a good part of it, anyway) in Boston. Wherever they play throughout the South, in fact, audiences seem to regard the Allmans as their own.
On the strength of their two previous albums and, more recently, a string of knockout performances from coast to coast, the Allmans have come likewise to become known as "musicians' musicians," a band's band. In fact, the only criticism I've heard from other musicians seemed quite frankly to have its roots very firmly in the time-honored practice of hollering sour grapes -- over the last year the Allman Band played the Fillmores so frequently that some people were calling them Bill Graham's House Band.
The Allman Brothers had many fine moments at the Fillmores, and this live double album (recorded March 12th and 13th of this year) must surely epitomize all of them. The range of their material and the more tenuous fact that they also use two drummers have lead to what I suppose are inevitable comparisons to the Dead in its better days. Any comparison to anybody is fatuous. In my opinion, the fact of the matter is that guitarists Duane Allman and Dicky Betts, organist-vocalist Gregg Allman, Berry Oakley on bass, and drummers J.J. Johanson and Butch Trucks comprise the best damn rock and roll band this country has produced in the past five years. And if you think I'm dog-shittin' you, listen to this album.
The first two sides consist of an all-blues set, with Duane setting the pace on slide guitar. Leading off with Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues," the first side moves on into "Done Somebody Wrong" and ends with eight and a half minutes of one of the finest-ever versions of T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday;" the second side is entirely devoted to Willie Cobbs' "You Don't Love Me," a cut on which everybody gets his licks.
Side three is devoted to the group's tune "Hot 'Lanta" and nearly 13 minutes of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," written by Betts, who plays lead. The version here is even better than the cut on the Allmans' second album. Side four is the encore; 22 minutes-plus of Gregg Allman's "Whipping Post," with Duane and Betts trading off leads around Gregg's organ, and both drummers taking off as well -- Trucks sometimes on timpani.
If you've been so unfortunate as to never have caught the Allman Brothers Band live, this recording is certainly the next best thing. Turn the volume up all the way and sit through the concert; by the time it's over you can almost imagine the Allman Band getting high and heading back to Macon (where, characteristically, they continue to live in unparanoid bliss) on their motorcycles. (Collectively, the group owns nine of them.) They're one of the nicest things that ever happened to any of us.
- George Kimball, Rolling Stone, 8/19/71.
Here's a good example of the things that went wrong with rock in the late Sixties: verbosity, and too bloody much time taken up by musicians who have too little to say.
The Allman Brothers recorded this set at the Fillmore East in March, 1971. The band is, in the vernacular of the music business, a good road group, a fine back-up ensemble. That is, they take care of business in a crisply efficient manner. Not much that over-excites, not much that gleams with the star-glow of the Stones or the Doors, but nothing unpleasant, either. The Allman Brothes work in the tradition of traveling Southern blues bands, playing a music that moves vaguely, but comfortably, between rock, blues and jazz.
Heard "live" in the special ambiance of the Fillmore's final months (they were the last group to play the hall when it closed in the summer of 1971), the extraordinary length of the pieces can be tolerated, maybe even enjoyed. But locked into four disc sides, the pieces sound tediously overblown. Improvisational ideas worthy of a few seconds are elaborated upon for minutes, and the basic simplicity of the musical structures undermines whatever lasting interest the players build. Exaggerated musical self-interest of this sort has helped cause the deterioration of the rock market, I suspect. Thin talent can only be stretched so far before it breaks.
- Don Heckman, Stereo Review, 2/72.
Fillmore East rocks one more time with Duane and Gregg Allman & the Allman Brothers Band, and they'll put out hard blues Macon, Ga.-style far into the night on this four-sided showdown that features the blues of Will WcTell, Elmore James, T-Bone Walker, plus second lead guitar Dicky Betts and the band. Runaway, hot guitars blaze the way on "Hot 'Lanta," "Elizabeth Reed" and "You Don't Love Me."
- Billboard, 1971.
The tragic and ultimately garish aftermath of the Allman Brothers Band began immediately after the release of this magnificent live album. Now their memory is all but obscured; no one even yells out "Whipping Post" at concerts anymore. Their spooky pinnacle remains.
- Cameron Crowe, Rolling Stone, 12/15/77.
I would have included Layla in my ten best list, but this album is when Duane Allman was really displaying why he was a better guitarist than Eric Clapton.
- Chet Flippo, Rolling Stone, 12/15/77.
Four sides comprising seven titles -- only two of them repeated (ad infinitum) from the band's studio albums -- and they sure do boogie. But even if Duane Allman plus Dickey Betts does equal Jerry Garcia, the Dead know roads are for getting somewhere. That is, Garcia (not to bring in John Coltrane) always takes you someplace unexpected on a long solo. I guess the appeal here is the inevitability of it all. B-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
The last recording fully to feature the spectacular guitar talents of Duane Allman. Allman had taken over the "guitar-king" throne temporarily left vacant by Eric Clapton on the demise of the supergroup Cream. The Allmans' Fillmore East set was also the opening act on the last bill at that fabled rock venue.
The band treats you to definitive performances of already classic tracks like "Stormy Monday" and "Statesboro Blues" -- only rarely can recorded live performances supplant the studio takes. The roots of Dickie Betts' later classic instrumental "Jessica" can be heard in the rising scale he feeds to Duane Allman during the improvisatory version of "Whipping Post." None of this playing is self-regarding, here every note counts.
Not surprisingly, on these well-preserved live tapes you can cut the atmosphere with a knife. By today's standards however the sound is soft, compressed and a little bass light but there is sufficient clarity and separation for this to be relatively unimportant; vocals and lead guitar are always well featured. Memories may have to make up for some of the missing sonic slam.
Sadly, the double album runs to just four minutes over the maximum playing length for one CD. The Fillmore East CDs certainly offer no price or presentation benefits but some gain in sound quality can be expected.
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
The double-disc Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East is one of rock's greatest live albums, featuring amazing interplay within highly dynamic arrangements. Most of the tracks exceed ten minutes, yet the Allmans never stumble. "Hot 'Lanta," "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," and "Statesboro Blues" are highlights. Contrary to claims that these are untouched performances, Fillmore East actually was a skillfully edited document (courtesy of producer Tom Dowd) taken from a run of shows at Bill Graham's Fillmore. (Mobile Fidelity offered an audiophile version in a mock-road-case style package, complete with photos and notes from Tom Dowd.) * * * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
At Fillmore East captured the Allmans' instrumental glory and improvisatory magic remarkably well. Arguably rock's greatest record, the double album holds only seven very long songs -- including the epic "Whipping Post" -- and nary a wasted note. * * * * *
- Alan Paul, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
This double-disc live album spawned a thousand Southern-rock bands. Before the appearance of At Fillmore East, most young, white Southern musicians either backed great black soul singers, played country music or mimicked the Beatles. The Allman Brothers changed all that, and with the release of the Fillmore concerts, American rock & roll reclaimed its Southern roots.
More than just being a social marker, though, these shows -- recorded in New York on March 12th and 13th, 1971 -- remain the finest live rock performance ever committed to vinyl. From Duane Allman's big, fat bottleneck slide-guitar lick, which jump-starts the first track (Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues"), to Berry Oakley's chugging, Harley-engine bass line that gives the twenty-three-minute closer ("Whipping Post") its haunting momentum, At Fillmore East captures America's best blues-rock band at its peak. The musicians trade licks as though they're tribal-dancing together, not just cranking out great rock & roll. The two drummers, two guitarists, organ and bass players lock together on instrumental tracks such as "Hot 'Lanta" and the classic "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" with the grace and passion of the tightest jazz musicians.
At the centerpiece of At Fillmore East is the duo of brothers Gregg and Duane Allman. Never has a guitarist shown as much emotion as Duane does with his squalling slide work, and never has a singer equaled that emotion as Gregg does in his slurred warble on T-Bone Walker's gorgeous "Stormy Monday." It would never happen like this again: Less than six months after the release of At Filmore East, the remarkable Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash. But this document remains, and it continues to serve as a soundtrack for college dorms more than three decades after its release. * * * * *
- Mark Kemp, Rolling Stone, 8/8/02.
Unfortunately Duane Allman wouldn't live to see its release, dying tragically in a motorcycle accident just as At Fillmore East was turning the band into legends in their own time. In a macabre twist of fate, bassist Berry Oakley would die in the same manner, in almost the same spot, almost exactly a year later. As tragic as this incident was, it only increased the band's image as authentic hellhound-on-my-trail bluesmen. As At Fillmore East proves, it was a legend they earned.
At Fillmore East was voted the 59th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.
- Joe S. Harrington, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.
Although this double album is unbeatable testimony to the Allman Brothers' improvisational skills, it is also evidence of how they connected with the crowds at New York's Fillmore East, and how the reciprocal energy gave birth to rock's greatest live double LP. "The audience would kind of play along with us," singer-organist Gregg Allman said of those March 1971 shows. "They were right on top of every single vibration coming from the stage." The guitar team of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts was at its hair-raising peak, fusing jazz and blues with emphatic force in "Whipping Post" and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." But their telepathy was cut short just three months after the album's release, when Duane died in a motorcycle accident.
At Fillmore East was chosen as the 49th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
Led by visionary slide guitarist Duane Allman and his singing and organ-playing younger sibling Gregg, The Allman Brothers Band both invented and transcended Southern rock. Based in Macon, Georgia, the original sextet also featured guitarist Dicky Betts, bassist Berry Oakley, and two drummers, Jai Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks. They were known for extended live jams, evolving a symphonic blend of rock, blues, country, soul, and jazz. When their first two studio albums flopped, a concert disc seemed the obvious answer.
The double LP At Fillmore East was assembled by producer Tom Dowd from a pair of March 1971 shows at the New York venue. The record begins with three faithful R&B covers, then takes a turn for the spectacular with side two: a 19-minute, tempo-shifting run through Willie Cobbs' "You Don't Love Me." This is more telepathy than boogie. Give a million bar bands a million gigs and they would never match the fluid interplay of the Allman originals "Hot 'Lanta" and "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed." A side-long version of "Whipping Post" brings the house down. Simmering with a tension that is almost cinematic, this Southern gothic lament is one of the all-time great roots-rock performances.
At Fillmore East broke the Allmans, reaching No. 13 on the Billboard chart, but it would also prove to be the classic lineup's swansong. On October 29, 1971, 24-year-old Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident on his way to Berry Oakley's house. Tragedy struck again on November 12, 1972, when Oakley died in the same way and at the same age, a mere three blocks from where his mentor had perished.
- Manish Agarwal, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
The Allman Brothers Band was just beginning to generate national attention when it pulled into Manhattan's Fillmore East auditorium for its first headlining stand in March 1971. All four shows from the run, including a final one that was delayed for hours because of a bomb scare (and didn't end until around 6 A.M.), were recorded. Producer Tom Dowd took the tapes, trimmed down some solos and completely edited others, and delivered At Fillmore East, the album that transformed this fast-rising curiosity from Macon, Georgia, into one of the truly great American rock bands of all time.
There were lots of wonderful llive acts in rock circa 1971. But the thrashing first choruses of "Statesboro Blues" and "Trouble No More" suggest that this one is different. It's a rock band built on a jazz notion: that the journey can be more interesting than the simple attention-grabbing refrain. Loose and free-floating solos involve the entire band, including the drum tandem of Butch Trucks and Jaimoe (Jai Johnny Johanson). Everything develops organically and everyone's united in serach of the kind of collective musical ecstasy that's usually found on John Coltrane records.
The long-haul truckers of rock, the Allmans establish a groove and keep it cranking. They're happy as long as the boogie is scooting along and nobody's stopping them from doing eight-five miles an hour down the freeway. Dowd once described the Allmans' twin-lead-guitar attack -- Duane Allman playing slide and Dicky Betts on six-string -- as "frightening," and this album shows you why. When one finishes his climb to the mountaintop, the other begins, taking "Whipping Post" and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" to new frenzied plateaus. Just when that settles down, comes organist (and vocalist) Gregg Allman, working out on a hot-sounding Hammond B3 to extend the marathon a bit further. (Check out his romp through the eight-minute "Stormy Monday.")
Fillmore East, now expanded with additional performances, established the Allmans among the rock elite, but, almost immediately, the band hit hard times: In October 1971, fourteen days after the album went gold, Duane was killed on a motorcycle. The band picked up again, and its next release, Eat a Peach (so named because it was a peach truck that killed Duane), included an entire album of live music from the Fillmore date as well as sedate, beautifully contemplative studio material.
Since then, the group, led by Gregg Allman, has shown remarkable resilience: No matter who's on stage, the band seems to recapture at will the greasy-boogie locomotion of the Fillmore recordings. That's no small feat, given that At Fillmore East remains one of the best live albums in rock history. Ornery and loud, it's perfect driving music for the road that goes on forever.
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
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