Talk From The Rock Room: June 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Allman Brothers Band-'People Can You Feel It' - Boston Commons 8-17-1971

     An luminescent Summer day calls for live Allman Brothers Band and today, inside and outside of the 'rock room' plays archival release number five from the bands official live release series. Featuring a smoking performance with the original band line up, this particular recording hails from the Summer of 1971 in Boston, MA and features some special music. A bit over two months from this concert the band would never be the same losing guiding light, brother and leader Duane Allman. Fortunately recordings like this exist and the glory days of the group can be revisited often. 

Fresh from recording the legendary 'Live At the Fillmore East' record, the band is primed, focused and hot for an eighty minute early show. Being an official release the sound quality is exceptional. Sure there are some moments of distortion, fluctuating levels or sonic gremlins, but all in all, this line recording features a balanced mix and clear vocals. The drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe stand out impressively on this recording and are an absolute pleasure to groove on with headphones, giving the percussionists a 3-D image. Most importantly the performance is imposing. The city being one of the band's favorites is notorious for powerhouse shows. According to the liner notes this is the first of two concerts performed at the Boston Common on that day.
The concert opens kinetically with 'Statesboro Blues' a common opener for the era, Duane Allman's slide guitar sharp, slicing through the heavy summer air relentlessly. Gregg Allman's vocals are youthful and gritty, a true blues singer through and through even at this early juncture. The band swings triumphantly and it is obvious this is going to be one of those nights. Betts takes the second guitar solo following Allman and strings along a series of celebratory notes that drape seductively over the groove like a hippy sundress.
The first three songs of the concert, 'Statesboro Blues', 'Trouble No More' and 'Don't Keep Me Wondering' feature Duane Allman on snaky slide guitar, spotlighted center stage. After 'Statesboro' Duane encourages everyone to visit concessions to 'get loose' as the drummers pound out the introduction to 'Trouble No More'. Gregg and Duane play catch with the melody line, Duane echoing each line sung by his brother in rich sugary licks. Gregg digs his heels in for this number, the band coalescing, rising in temperature  and soon reaching boiling point.

Berry Oakley and the drummers are in prodigious form this evening, 'Don't Keep Me Wondering' is a fine example of this, the rhythm section dynamically encouraging the groove, an avalanche of smooth rounded stones rolling down a steep mountain side. 'Dont Keep Me Wondering' reaches the first musical peak of the evening with Duane dramatically building steps to the musical summit. The band now warmed up, prepare to embark on the centerpiece of the performance.

Duane, in a chatty mood, during a brief break describes the bands love for Boston and how many of their most 'righteous' performances have taken place there before the band tip toes into the syncopated introduction of 'You Don't Love Me'. The next twenty six minutes are a soul stirring clinic by the band, displaying a multitude of poly rhythms, virtuous guitar playing, and sweet Southern soul.

Slow and low out the back porch door, the band slinks through the introductory changes until 'Skydog' takes the first solo spot igniting the tempo of the band and proliferating the intensity. Betts takes the second solo spot, hanging onto each note for dear life, stretching and ringing the emotion out of every note, like squeezing the juice out of a luscious musical fruit. Like a country gentleman sipping sweet whiskey in the yard, Betts takes his time, elongating each and every note, drawing deep.

Duane takes another driving turn, before the band drops out at six minutes leaving the stage to Allman alone. Duane, in a slightly overdriven tone, honks and tonks his way through a series of sensual melodic statements. Finally settling on a sweet hummingbird tone, Allman gently tickles some of the most nectarous licks you will ever hear. At almost eight minutes Allman gets a bit more distorted, his tone more aggressive and the solo morphs into a guttural blues display with squiggly wiggly shaded exclamations. Allman finds a central spot, dances around that spot with a series of related statements, then fires off a series of disorientating swells and neck slides at around nine minutes.
The drummers lend random punctuations before a Tympani signals the 'boogie' segment of the song, at nine and a half minutes the drummers and Duane head to the backcountry for awe inspiring views and rare and airy melodies. At a bit past eleven minutes Allman is now acting as a channel, a plethora of vibrato and sustained notes escape from his guitar in a flurry, cottonwood on a comfortable breeze. The drummers circle one another in a battle stance, the jam hits a plateau where it carries a consistent blast of energy in a straight line peak. The dynamic intensity of the improvisation drops again, this time Allman is disseminating notes in a endless series of exclamations. A  joyous Georgia swamp ballad manifests from his fingers, these moments the reason why, even in his short time on this earth, Allman is considered one of the finest string benders of all time.

A shuffle coagulates from thin air, Oakley and the drummers lock in the rhythm and Betts and Allman stand back to back preparing for the dual. Gregg lays cornerstones with a hollow Hammond base over which Betts and Duane run side by side down dusty country roads, coming close to touching bumpers before splitting off away from one another. Betts the able younger brother stays close to Allman, repeating licks back to Duane similar to an annoying sibling. Both guitarists drive the other deeper, faster and farther before they converge at eighteen and a half minutes to hit the quintessential dual lined Allman Brothers guitar groove.
 After nineteen minutes the band drops out again leaving Duane Allman to explore the musical horizon, scanning for the perfect location in which to embark. The group eventually coalesces into an inspiring sunrise explosion that only they as a group could conjure. The music swells organically, each member encouraging the creation, no one in particular directing the flow, just letting the music find its way, sonic water seeking through the cracks, making a path. 'Joy To the World' makes a brief appearance before the song reaches an immense conclusion that defies proper classification. Less a musical creation and more a natural occurrence of developed sound. Possibly only placing second to the jaw dropping performance on August 26, 1971, that expanded on many of the themes developed here. In addition to the similarly powerful September 16, 1971 rendition, this version of 'You Don't Love Me' is worthy of inspection and archival remembrance.

The band then aggressively busts down the door with a crooked 'Hoochie Coochie Man', Oakley fittingly getting his spotlight moment for the evening and making the most of it. The band's arrangement of this song is always a show stopper for  me and this performance is no different. Weighty tumbling drums and an earnest vocal reading by Oakley are highlights of the performance. Betts plays a fine solo during the song in which Oakley follows with busy fretwork.
A sizzling version of 'In Memory of Elizabeth Reed' comes next, during which come points where I have to stop and stare at the stereo system due to the sonic assault that is pouring from the speakers. The Dickey Betts number has become one of the most enduring tunes of the Allman's catalog with performances occurring right up to modern times. This particular version in my opinion sits in the era where the song reached its optimal power and strength. The band navigates the changes with grace, with the song increasing in intensity as it continues. Betts first solo is a tranquil exploration of the theme, languid and inquisitive. Betts pulls against the forward propulsion of the band, with ringing elastic notes. The jam reaches a reverberating peak with Betts quickly climbing a ladder and Oakley rising from the froth with superior statements.  Gregg Allman takes the second solo, the jam turns funky with both guitarists alternating rhythmic statements. Duane takes the third round, entering with a tangled weave of notes that become solitary blocked statements. Oakley takes the lead under Duane's thick notes, until Allman suddenly unleashes a torrent of teeth grinding licks, climaxing in his usual guitar wizardry. The band tightly and euphorically stomps out of drum interlude and through the finally.

With time for only one more number as heard from Gregg Allman speaking from the stage, the band closes with 'Whipping Post'. This eighteen plus minute version contains all of the twists and turns and dramatics that one can hope for. Similarly to the entire performance, this version also rockets at high velocity with the drummers a throwing out a heterogeneous mixture of rhythmic delights. Duane Allman enters the first solo quickly with some cosmic conjuring. This is not a solo that builds in intensity, this is a solo that cruises consistently at a towering altitude, each lick bettering the previous. Duane, 'hitting the note' and acting as a Tesla tower that receives and then disseminates mystical melodies. The tension is key, the music pulsing like a amoeba liquid light show, not a wasted phrase or note, each moment contributing to the whole.

 Betts takes the solo after the second verse and leads the band through a dark and haunted valley before coming out the other side with a series of scarring extended statements. This is Betts finest guitar work of the evening and is inspiring in its construction. There is some static on the recording at this point and what sounds to be a change in the source recording. The band blasts out of the drift and through the guitar peak of the track before dismissing gravity and settling into a floating  musical wash. The three guitarist twirl around one another in a tripped out woodland dance. Oakley drones, the drums swell in a cymbal rain. Allman and Betts join together in a delicate descending etude that falls into the extended conclusion of the song. Gregg Allman rejoins ruminating soulfully, leading the band through the climactic ending of the number, thus ending the show to great applause and enthusiasm.
This era of the Allman Brothers Band featuring the original founding members is truly going 'Back Where It All Begins' and investigating the formative roots of their forty five year career. While the Allman's available official recordings of this time contain many of the same songs; like nimble jazz musicians, the Brothers take each performance and turn it into a unique piece containing elements and characteristic that no other show has. This particular recording captures the band reaching their first full musical peak and also their first natural conclusion of an era. Soon their popularity would reach full fruition, unfortunately the heart (Duane) and soul (Berry) of the band would not be there to witness it. Go out and grab this archival release when the band was still discovering the magic they were able to conjure on a nightly basis, and were arguably the best band in the land.

Whipping Post-Fillmore East

Allman Brothers March 20, 1971

Monday, June 9, 2014

Put The Boot In: Elvis Presley - 'Elvis At Full Blast' 8-11-1972 Las Vegas

   Reeling and rocking in the 'rock room' today is a warm soundboard recording of Elvis Presley live in Las Vegas during a midnight performance on August 11, 1972.  Presley was playing fairly consistent and definitely rocking shows during this era and this recording includes a masterful performance as well as quality sonic aspects. While Presley's sets would stay static throughout a tour, the performances were often different in vibe and attitude. This capture finds Presley and the band in peak form and playing a varied and impressive set. This is a dry line recording with all instruments audible, but some of the top end is flattened a bit. The strength of the performance outweighs any sonic anomalies the recording contains. Except for a few spots this boot contains very acceptable sound quality.

     The concert and recording begins with the instrumental 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' as a proverbial lead in and warm up for the opening number. The recording is titled, Elvis At Full Blast, fittingly as the band ignites the opening 'See See Rider' on Ronnie Tutt's enthusiastic percussive opening. Presley veterans and rock legends Jerry Scheff (Bass) and James Burton (Guitar) are both tight as the bolts of a bridge as Sheff climbs the ladder of his bass and Burton pokes numerous stings with his solo.

     Taking no moment to pause the band segues into a sneaky 'I Got A Woman', sung slyly and low by Elvis. Hand claps and golden cymbal bells drive the tempo higher and higher with Presley growling as smoke pours from the doors of the band.

     A quick pause for a 'Thank You' from the King and the band is off into a churning 'Proud Mary'. Burton laces stringy Telecaster lines under Presley's vocals, weaving with Scheff's brisk alternating bass lines. Deep almost humorous backing vocals reply to Elvis's pleas but somehow sound exactly perfect. Three high octane classics come from Elvis without a moment to breathe as his professionally amazing collection of musicians slap everyone right in the face. Good stuff.
       'Until It's Time For You To Go' follows, bringing the tempo down for a few. Elvis begins choking (on a drink) slightly causing a false start. After the intense rock and roll introduction, this number is a chance to spotlight Presley's vocals in a intimate setting. Swelling strings and music box piano outline the crystalline framework of the song.

     Part of Elvis Presley's everlasting appeal is his masterful interpretation of others songs. On this recording is an absolute bombastic and intimidating version of 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling'. A leisurely bass drone moves the groove like a slow march through thick swamps. Presley grabs this one and does not let go, the band floating over evening waters behind him. Steady and invested Presley boils over in a dramatic froth on  the chorus, later turning the songs recognizable breakdown into a hand raising gospel review.

     Hitting a groove that most bands stay up late dreaming of slotting into, Presley stage favorite 'Polk Salad Annie' boogies sprightly while Presley notices the fine ladies in the audience. The central part of this jam leaves the confines of the International arena as Sheff takes a fat fuzzy bass 'solo', followed by some syrupy Burton soloing. The band is hot to the touch at this point, slamming into a rubber wall for a  conclusion accented by wonderful Presley vocal interjections.

     After a humorous interlude where Presley apologizes for the explosive reading of 'Polk Salad Annie', there is some great dialog between Presley and the ladies seated in the closer rows. The band then begins 'What Now My Love' a song that would later reach amazing mature heights during Presley's Aloha From Hawaii special. It is given a glorious reading here.
   'Fever' follows, flushed and slinky, sung in clandestine fashion by Elvis. Exaggerated and honest, the shading reading of 'Fever' brings down the vibe while still keeping it humid. Scheff and Tutt control the groove with perfect accompaniment. A song tailor made for Presley of there ever was one.

     With only a brief pause, Presley breaks into a showcase of his early catalog, with a loose version of 'Love Me' that begs on two knees to the great delight of the females in the audience. The rhythm section again thumps along ecstatically to Presley's vocal direction.

     The momentum of the performance again increases with a jittery medley of Elvis's early hits beginning with warp speed 'All Shook Up' that quakes with nervous energy. 'Teddy Bear' follows close on the dissipating exhaust of 'All Shook Up', and then segues seamlessly into a pleading 'Dont Be Cruel' highlighted by Burton's flawless Telecaster strokes.

     'Heartbreak Hotel' continues the flip card through Presley's early hits. 'Heartbreak Hotel' benefits from the sparse arrangement and Glenn D. Hardin's sugar sweet black and white sprinkles. Another brief pause and the band leaves a breeze with a rockabilly 'Blue Suede Shoes' that taps its toes erratically on the checkered linoleum.

     Then jumping forward a few years into the catalog, a train engine 'Little Sister' leaves the station at a full clip, slipping seamlessly into the Beatles 'Get Back' like they are the same song. Tutt has puffs of smoke coming from his kit, moving the musical train smoothly down the steel rails. Presley sings with in a low key attack, patiently and melodically weaving around the groove. Highlight.
      The power and grace of this accumulated Presley band is illustrated on the slobbery slick version of 'Hound Dog', that unlike the original, prances on a funky wah-wah drenched instrumental track. One unleashed, the group breaks into a double time rendition, sinking there teeth into a tasty musical treat.

     Following 'Hound Dog', Presley comments to the audience that he did not like 'Love Me Tender' responding to audience requests for the song, before telling the band to begin 'It's Over'. A moving and dramatic version of the song that would also reach extravagant heights on Aloha From Hawaii follows. Swelling strings elicit all of the smooth emotion from Presley's vocals. A much better choice than 'Love Me Tender' would have been in my opinion.

     'It's Over' acts as a prelude to the smoking version of 'Suspicious Minds', appropriate to this era that nips at its heels. Played at a greased lightning speed, the song combines all of the elements of Presley's live stage show at this time; the grooviest band, emotive vocals, big horns and imposing strings.

     After a quick break, Presley then introduce the members of his his band as they vamp on virtuously behind him, prepping for the apex and conclusion of the performance. 'My Way' begins on a solitary piano figure with Presley's comforting refrain, a sweet velvet statement building in intent and purpose, on the support of the strings that enter like a midnight guest. Only Frank could have done it better.
     In contrast, the version of  'A Big Ol' Hunk of Love' that follows was originally an Elvis classic hailing from 1958 and bearing the distinction of being the only single recorded while Presley was in the military. This rendition is as hot as black asphalt in the desert, featuring a heavy left hand on the piano and Burton shredding to pieces a rock and roll guitar solo. Presley groans with the early sexual tension of his original singles as the band thumps in hard syncopation. A huge and fitting performance and possibly the finest of this fantastic evening.

     Following the rock clinic that just occurred, Presley answers a screaming fan with a low throated 'What Kid?', before unfurling 'An American Trilogy'. Comprised of three historical songs, 'Dixie', 'All My Trials', and 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic', Presley started to perform the song in 1972. The climactic performances would grow in stature and intensity, eventually becoming an essential element in Presley's sets, exploding like fireworks and in many instances stopping the show in breathtaking fashion. This evening is no different, with Presley completely invested in the reading of the song, like a bookworm in a new library.

     The evenings performance closes on the expected and towering, "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You', designed to send the ladies of the crowd home pining for more and to close the evening on a theatrical and sensational note.
     The available recording of Elvis Presley captured live during the Summer 1972 Las Vegas residency, finds the perfect combination of Presley the rocker and the crooner, while playing deep cuts, towering emotional ballads and classics from his deep catalog. Unfortunately following 1973, Presley's live performances would start take a slow down hill turn, remaining inconsistent for the remaining four years of his life. Recordings like the Elvis At Full Blast bootleg are valuable to rock fans for their deeper investigation of the nuances and eras making up Presley's diverse career. This particular recording offers the listener a smorgasbord of the elements that make Presley the King of rock and roll and why his legacy continues to grow in stature.
Elvis 8-11-1972