When one of the titular members of a band dies within a few years of that band forming… When a band breaks up and reunites several times over several decades but never seems to lose any credibility… When after all of that, a band stays massively famous and even more respected over more than four decades, that’s a band worth exploring. So here it is, my first experience with the amazingly enduring Alllman Brothers Band, Live at Fillmore East.
Making the album’s intentions immediately known, Statseboro Blues does what its title promises. A traditional blues progression, lyrics telling a story of lament, and blistering guitar solos peppered throughout. Simple, effective.
The sound made by having two lead guitarists in one band is more than justified in Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’. Even if that was the only song on the entire album to showcase this duelling sound, the double attack approach would pay for itself. But it comes back to remind you how great it is over and over again on Live at the Fillmore East.
Stormy Monday slows things down and shows that The Allman Brothers Band can keep a song vital, without all the surface excitement of a sped up tempo and wailing solos. We still get the solos, this time from guitar and keyboards, they’re just a little more restrained, while still managing to be just as blistering as the louder, more bombastic offerings in other songs.
This album is straight up blues, the way a blues novice like myself can appreciate, but I have to imagine that aficionados love it to. It sticks to all the genre rules that an entry level person can recognise, but they do so much cool stuff within those rules, that it never gets boring.
That is, it sticks to all the genre rules until the late album track Midnight Rider. Not blues, not rock, but in no way lacking in personality or identity. It’s a slow and steady song like nothing else on the album. The double guitars get to shine again on instrumental Hot ‘Lanta which is just as good, and just as hard to pin down as Midnight Rider.
Listening to The Allman Brothers Band for the first time made me think of The Band. Maybe it’s because my first introduction to Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko and the rest of The Band came via their live album, and swan song, The Last Waltz. But hearing Live at Fillmore East gave me the same appreciation and awe of the pristine musicianship on display in those days. I love the DIY, learn as you go aesthetic of punk rock, but I also love this era of music, when only the very best musicians made it through.
For me, this era is defined by the bands made up of players who had to prove themselves as impeccable players and do the hard yards. And like The Last Waltz, Live at the Fillmore East is a master class in technical musicianship that still never lets the technical aspects rob it of any heart or soul. Every note might be perfect, but you can hear the imperfect, real people behind them.