Saturday, August 11, 2012

At Fillmore East (1971)

As self-indulgent double live albums from the '70s go, this one looms particularly large for me. First, I just loved it, specifically the guitar play and interplay across the solos, and all the places they take the long ones. I hadn't been to many concerts then and I was hungry for the experience, so as always I enjoyed that aspect of the live set too, projecting myself in and imagining making it to all these great shows. Then, in short order, I was sad that Duane Allman died. In high school the album became a major touchstone as one bunch put together a band and set about aping these numbers almost note for note, including even the elaborate peregrinations of "You Don't Love Me." They were good too. I loved that band—Seth—and it had a lot of followers at school too. For the first year or two this album was out I listened to it obsessively most days. Even then, although I did not like to admit it right out loud, I knew the best thing here by country miles is "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," and I also noticed what a hard time they seemed to have ending songs—even the shorter ones (under six minutes) you can positively go take a bath in the time it takes them to get to the finish. All these years later, listening again, I can really hear the flaws, a lot of shaggy Southern-fried rock. But it can still sound pretty great too when they are choogling and feeling their way through the bluesy Georgia material. Duane Allman was a great player, with a raw and warm tone and a fluid way of getting it around, and Dickey Betts was a good match for him, counterpointing Allman's muscle with a more delicate style shadowing him. This is one of their finest hours. It's really great stuff in its best moments. I don't connect as much anymore with "You Don't Love Me," which unfortunately sounds busy and almost rinky-dink to me now, or even with "Whipping Post," my long-ago favorite. But sure enough, I swear no one wants to miss "Elizabeth Reed"—13 minutes of sheer poise and power delicately controlled, themes stated, elaborated, developed, and burst open, and then it ends on a dime. I don't know who's more surprised—you, me, the band, or the crowd that seems almost to forget to applaud for it, so startling is the emphatic finish.

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