On March 12th and 13th, 1971, the Allman Brothers Band rolled tape at New York’s Fillmore East for their third record, a double LP that became their first Top Ten seller and one of the greatest live rock albums ever released, a gold standard of electric-blues ecstasy and improvisation. Forty years later, on March 12th at the Beacon Theater – three nights into their annual New York spring residency – the group celebrated that album, At Fillmore East, by performing it in sequence and its entirety, from “Statesboro Blues” to “Whippin’ Post.” And that was just the first set.
There was a special guest too, right at the opening notes. When guitarist Derek Trucks hit the intro lick to the supercharged arrangement of Blind Willie McTell’s”Statesboro Blues,” it was not on Trucks’ usual red Gibson SG but a gold-topped 1957 Les Paul – one of the late Duane Allman’s original guitars.
The Beacon resurrection of At Fillmore East was, in one sense, dynamite illusion. The current-day Allmans – singer-organist Gregg Allman and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks, who all played on the record; Derek (Butch’s nephew), guitarist Warren Haynes; bassist Oteil Burbridge and percussionist Marc Quiñones – inevitably played the album as it was immortalized, not as it happened in real time. The original seven-song track listing jumped back and forth between March 12th and 13th shows; the side-long expansion of Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me” was a composite of versions from both nights.
But in performing the ideal, the band put flesh and immediacy on durable bright moments, like the falling molten harmonies of the guitars in “Hot ‘Lanta,” while writing new dramas in the long soloing passages. Derek and Haynes were both raised on the meat and mysticism of At Fillmore East and have spent their respective careers pursuing their variations on its promises. Haynes’ slide work in Elmore James’ “Done Somebody Wrong” was a hard-muscle spin on Duane’s ’71 fluidity, while Derek’s slide break in “Stormy Monday” was an Indo-Coltrane blowout of grace on fire. The two locked into tight heated conversation in the railroad-drumming section of “You Don’t Love Me,” and Haynes threw in an extra bow to ex-Allmans guitarist Dickey Betts – a quote from the latter’s “Les Brer in A Minor” on 1972’s Eat a Peach – in the middle of Betts’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”.
The second set opened with more March ’71 madness: “Mountain Jam” and “Trouble No More,” both on Eat a Peach but also taped that weekend. David Hidalgo of Los Lobos played guitar on “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin'” from IdleWild South and the blues chestnut “Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl,” but the pace lagged there, as if the band had run through its huge store of nightly fire and exultation reliving At Fillmore East.
For the encore, the Allmans played a surprise, the memorial ballad “No One to Run With,” from the 1994 album, Where It All Began – a recognition, sober and fond, of all they had lost, recovered and treasured since the spring of 1971. As an album, At Fillmore East preserved a brief legendary high in the band’s life. At the Beacon, that gold standard became a living thing, all over again.