Written by 5:00 am Audiophile Music

Allman Brothers’ Joyous 1971 Fillmore East Sets Sparkle On Blu-ray

Mark Smotroff reconnects with an Allman joy reinvented for the Blu-ray generation

OK folks, so here in this review I am going to try to justify why you should consider buying a legendary album by a legendary genre-bending band one more time for the up-teenth time. Consider that this reissue I’m about to tell you about may well in fact be the best, most super-duperest, über-deluxe version of said band’s best album, ever! This is the version that you have waited all your life to hear and own: the complete run of shows recorded by The Allman Brothers Band live at The Fillmore East in 1971, presented in high-resolution surround sound on Blu-ray Disc.

NavScreenDisc1.225.jpgFor those not in the know, the Allman Brothers Band were at one time virtually unknown outside of hippie rock music circles. A growing following were grooving on this new music which ultimately got branded, marketed and bastardized as Southern Rock. It was way more than that. The Allman Brothers’ music was — and still is — arguably the crossroads where the blues, jazz and gospel go out drinking for the night with raw rock’n’roll.

That is perhaps why promoter and impresario Bill Graham fell in love with their sound, giving them more nights at his Fillmore clubs on both coasts than most any other band of the times and choosing them to close out the final nights of the venue in 1971.

After the release of the The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East album, the group hit the top of the charts and their legend was sealed for the ages as generations of guitarists discovered the still-spectacular, awe-inspiring playing of Duane Allman and his dueling stage partner, Dicky Betts.

Perhaps not coincidentally, shortly thereafter and for the next five or six years, most every hot band of the day released a multi-disc live album, most of which became big sellers. The Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 to Deep Purple’s Made in Japan to Yes’s Yessongs, Peter Frampton’s multiplatinum Frampton Comes Alive and of course Kiss’s mega-selling Alive! Yeah, there were live albums before this — The Who’s Live at Leeds, Hendrix’s contractual obligation Band of Gypsies and of course the Woodstock soundtrack — but none really had the sonic impact that this one did.

The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East was a genuinely high-fidelity recording. I remember how it was often used to demonstrate the high-fidelity gear being sold in the early 1970s at places like Tech Hi Fi and Crazy Eddie’s in the NY area. It was one of those albums you put on to impress friends with the sound of your stereo.

AllmansBlu225.jpgThe album was created using one of the fancy mobile studios which were still a relatively new thing at that time and place. This was the days before computers and Pro Tools, folks. We’re talking about a truck (or sometimes even a mobile home RV) that was rigged up like a professional, state-of-the-art recording studio of the times with 8- or 16-track capabilities. Now you could really capture the essence of a live concert in a very high-fidelity manner and share it with the world.

And react the world did! This album reached #13 on the Billboard charts, which is pretty amazing for a record that only had seven songs spread over four album sides and no real singles.

Additional pieces of the concerts trickled out, such as on their follow-up release Eat a Peach and also on the Dreams box set. Fuller-still snapshots of the concert were put out in the early 1990s as The Fillmore Concerts. This was better, but still incomplete; it was only a matter of time before they would get around to opening up the vaults.

Over the years, the concerts that made up album The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East have become a sort of holy grail for the hardcore fan, with collectors trading hissy multi-generation cassette tapes leaked out and copied over and over, all studied over with near-religious fervor. The hardcore fans wanted to hear more of the full shows, not just the highlighted best bits.

As many a Deadhead has been known to say regarding recordings of their favorite concerts: “… just give us the full shows, maaan.”

So here we are in 2014 and many of those boomer generation fans who were young hippie folk in 1971 are now contemplating retiring or at minimum hopefully spending some quality time at home listening to their favorite concert recordings through nice living-room home theater systems. And thus here we come to that moment in time when Universal Music has finally graced us with what must be the definitive issue: The Allman Brothers Band: The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings.

Yup, that is true. This is the complete thing. You get the full first and second sets from the March 12 and 13 shows in 1971 as well as the full June 27 Fillmore closing show.

Of course, so much of this has been released before, why should anyone really care about this right now?

The simple answer is that this is the first time that they have put this music out on Blu-ray Disc, with all the performances together in one package, offered in 96 kHz / 24-bit high resolution in both stereo and 5.1 surround sound.

THAT is why we should care!

The Allman Brothers Band The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings sounds just wonderful. These are all the unedited performances, warts’n’all. So if you aren’t prepared for that experience, it may not be for you. The original album version is still around and in print on vinyl again. Its a classic live album.

]]>How does this sound compared to the vinyl, you ask? I can’t tell you exactly, as I got rid of my vinyl when I got the earlier surround release in DTS Digital Surround. The original vinyl album is, however, in my DNA so that, combined with owning The Fillmore Concerts CD set and the DTS disc, I’m in pretty good shape here.

Allmans1.225.jpgThat said, I can confidently say this sounds better than any vinyl version I’ve heard. This Blu-ray set is arguably more definitive than even the new four-LP 200-gram vinyl version that is out now as well because here we get the full 35-minute “Mountain Jam” presented as one continuous performance, not broken up into two sides.

As great as this is, curiously I have to keep my DTS 5.1 version of the show since that is essentially a repurposing of an early ’70s quadrophonic mix and a unique beastie unto itself. The new surround mix features a very traditional sort of concert hall presentation — band in the front channels, concert hall ambiance from the rear channels — yet it is one that is very full and satisfying, making for an exciting live listening experience that hopefully simulates the ambiance of the Fillmore East. The DTS 5.1 disc, on the other hand, is in some ways more immersive, putting the guitars and band all around you in discreet channels. That sort of mix may not be everyone’s cuppa tea, but I find it kinda cool! (Note: There is an SACD out there which may have this same quad-style 5.1 mix on it, but I do not own it currently.)

The stereo mixes on the new Blu-ray Discs sound just great. To my ear, the recordings remain warm and punchy even when you crank up the volume on your stereo. Most importantly it feels true to the feel of the original two LP set (i.e., it does not sound modernized).

Anyhow, I think you get the idea that The Allman Brothers Band: The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings is a really nice set. It comes with handsome 40-page booklet featuring loads of pictures and an insightful essay about the behind-the-scenes that lead up to this landmark recording.

The set seems to be coming down in price already too — just in time for your holiday gift shopping! — available up on Amazon for about $60 which is fair given all you are getting (I saw it selling at Amoeba for upwards of $90 a month or so ago!).

The Allman Brothers Band The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings: legendary performances, uncut and in high-resolution surround sound. What’s not to love?

Get it.

Bong not included.

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