By March of 1971, something bigger than the music was happening with the Allman Brothers Band — certainly something bigger, I’d guess, than they could explain. Having spent 300 days on the road in 1970, they’d become more than a road-tested band. They had become something closer to the familial group delineated in their very name.
On stage, they worked in tandem, in brilliant opposition, through and around and with one another in a fashion that felt telepathic — as if they had solved the mathematics of music, without saying a word. Without having to say a word. Like, well, brothers.
Dual drummer Butch Trucks and Jaimoe, along with underrated bassist Berry Oakley, provided a foundation that was more fertile than it was rock hard, something where ideas could take root. What grew from there was left to the trio of Duane Allman, his foil Dickey Betts and his sibling Gregg. They had started out searching for something that didn’t yet have a title, and maybe still doesn’t. It’s not entirely Southern Rock, and only partly jazz. There is a rich vein of blues in it, and some country, too.
Where they ended up, that spring, was a place where it would have been so much easier to fail than to have succeeded, far away from their kudzu-covered roots — in Manhattan, at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East. Together, however, they found patterns there, circles of invention that connected with other shapes. Songs typically stretched to 10 minutes, sometimes more, as they explored. And a legend was born. The Allman Brothers were, as At Fillmore East arrived, all of a sudden in peak form: Hearing things differently, hearing them as they’d never heard them before.
Only later did we learn that the original At Fillmore East disc actually mixed and matched highlights from those March 12-13 shows in the East Village. Of course, even in this distilled fashion, the album was an overwhelming accomplishment, a career’s worth of musical invention carved into the grooves of one vinyl release. That there might be more — a lot more — seemed all but unfathomable then. Duane’s tragic death, however, led to additional Fillmore music finding its way onto 1972’s Eat a Peach (including a now emotionally devastating take on “One Way Out”) and then still more on subsequent reissue projects.
So, more than four decades on, how much of any relevance could remain — even from a band in peak form? Was it even fair to ask that whatever leftover items could be so equally vital? Probably not. And yet, in many cases, they most certainly are. This newly expanded 1971 Fillmore East Recordings set stretches to six illuminating discs, and features more than a dozen previously unheard selections. All four sets from March 1971 are here, as well as the Allman Brothers Band’s headlining appearance at the Fillmore East’s closing weekend event.
Along the way, we hear striking, horn-driven takes on a trio of tracks that include “Whipping Post” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” — moments that, while not definitive, illustrate once more the way the Allman Brothers Band pushed against genre walls. Sure, some may wonder if we really need, say, five versions of “Statesboro Blues” over the course of this release. But they are always working out different equations, always drawing a more perfect outline. You hear ideas expanded upon, others discarded. They add, they subtract. You hear them tinkering until they find something new, every time. You hear a band coming, at least for one brief moment, completely into its own all over again.
Of course, they already did that, the first time, with the original seven cuts selected by the late Tom Dowd — and, it’s fair to say that nothing here supersedes his original choices. Still, it seemed back then to have happened all at once. The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings makes clear, by putting the original single disc in a broader context, just how much work the Allman Brothers Band put into this. You get a more visceral feel for the invention, the craftsmanship and the perspiration. If anything, their accomplishments here loom that much larger now.