At Fillmore East [Deluxe Edition]
The classic version of the Allman Brothers Band graced the planet for a period that was all too brief -- from 1969 through October 1971 -- but in the decades since there have been seemingly endless packagings and repackagings of the group's relatively slim recorded output. The group did its best work in a live setting, and the live pinnacle of the ABB's career was thankfully captured by producer Tom Dowd in the justifiably lauded At Fillmore East double-record set released on Capricorn Records in the summer of 1971. Of course, no one knew when At Fillmore East was released that guitarist Duane Allman would be killed in an October motorcycle accident, mere months after the album hit the shelves. His death remains one of the great "what if"s of rock history, as one can only surmise what heights he might have reached -- bringing the ABB along with him -- had his life not been cut so tragically short at the age of only 24. But At Fillmore East was not the last word on the classic ABB's live recorded legacy; most of 1972's Eat a Peach came from the same Fillmore sessions, and a bit more live Fillmore material also showed up on the two volumes of The Duane Allman Anthology (1972 and 1974) and the ABB's Dreams box set (1989). It all added up to two-plus hours of prime live Allman Brothers Band with Duane kicking the group up to stratospheric heights, but it was also rather piecemeal, spread across several releases and scattered across two decades. In 1992, along came The Fillmore Concerts, which seemingly remedied this situation with a two-CD set, again produced by Dowd, combining music mainly from At Fillmore East and Eat a Peach to derive two full discs of music, a stellar showcase for Duane and the band.
But there were problems: alternate takes and remixes of the At Fillmore East material sometimes did no favors to the music; for example, Rudolph "Juicy" Carter's sax detracts from the "Hot 'Lanta" take chosen for inclusion in The Fillmore Concerts, and Duane's "Liz Reed" solo, although from the same take used on At Fillmore East, is mixed lower than on the version listeners first heard in 1971 -- as a result, the power and beauty of the solo doesn't stand out quite as effectively. In 2003 came the "Deluxe Edition" of At Fillmore East, and they arguably got it right this time. Out the window went the 1994 Fillmore Concerts remixes and alternate takes -- these are the At Fillmore East versions that first dazzled listeners during the year they were recorded. Also featured is the live material from Eat a Peach -- including "Mountain Jam" with Duane's stunning solo after the drum break, culminating in his moving take on "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" -- along with other live music that appeared on the two Duane Allman anthologies and Dreams. It's all sequenced logically, with the bluesy stuff kicking things off and the band stretching out and reaching for the heavens as the set progresses. This is the ABB at their thrilling apex; listen to how the soloing and the band's dynamic accompaniment had evolved in less than nine months following the recording of Live at the Atlanta International Pop Festival. And it's all presented in a handsome, high-quality package with a nice essay by Dave Thompson and photos both familiar and never before seen. One could conclude that this is yet another repackaging of live Allmans material by a mega-label attempting a quick cash-in. But for a 21st century listener seeking to experience the best of the Allman Brothers Band's greatest incarnation, with Duane Allman at the very heart of the music, there was no better package than this -- that is, until the release of The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings in 2014.