Much like Led Zeppelin IV and Dark Side Of The Moon, At Fillmore East by the Allman Bros. is so completely well known and revered that it’s ultimately underrated. Sure, any classic rawk homey and jam scene brah can shout out Fillmore‘s technical mastery and forward-thinking virtuosity, just as anti-boomer detractors and punks can condemn its indulgences and perceived self importance. They are both wrong, mainly due to the fact that this gatefold double album might look way cool sitting in a vinyl collection but it’s rare that someone actually throws it on at a party. If they did, they would be treated to a complicated but inviting bizarro-world populated by greasy, gritty southern blooze, mind-expanding bent note solos, and utopian hippie leanings directly at odds with tracks about two-timing women and their gun-toting husbands. It’s a record that sounds nothing at all like the legend that has sprouted from it, a work that defies categorization without being too prickly about it, and it’s therefore incredibly ripe for reinterpretation and some playing around with its ever-elusive building blocks.
On a Wednesday night at a hip bowling alley in Williamsburg (Brooklyn Bowl) that has become something of a mid-tier touring jam band staple venue, Scott Sharrard decided to meet Fillmore head on in the only appropriate way: live as fuck. After all, The Allmans risked falling flat on their angelic blond heads without the benefit of overdubs or fixed punch-ins, so why shouldn’t YOU if you try to tackle this monster? The fact that on this same night, 50 years ago across the water, the Allman’s were tearing into Night Two of the Fillmore East stand that made their legend, gave the air a definite meaningful crackle and the 500-or-so oldheads, younger jammers, and bearded wanderers were treated to a spectacle that was respectful but not worshipful, smooth but not Vegas showband, studious but never textbook.
The whole shebang had some very serious Allman World cred, with none other than original ABB drummer Jaimoe on the stage. If you’re going to do this thing right, then it certainly pays to have the guy who drummed on it 50 years ago out there with you. With fellow drummer Rich Pagano, Jaimz drilled down an impressive SoFunk throughout the proceedings that used the original rhythm lines as nothing more than a takeoff point, bringing a particular vital verve to “Hot’Lanta” and “Whipping Post” that never let the gathered musicians slack for one second.
Sharrard himself brings a whole lotta’ Allman soul brother history to the table. He was the musical leader of Gregg Allman’s solo forays, was all over his records, and even co-wrote a few songs with the recently crossed over dirty blond legend (to my ears the saddest rock death of the past decade).Scott seemed to slide seamlessly into the Duane role on this night, stabbing out white hot slide runs on “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” that my ears are still ringing from one day removed. On opener “Statesboro Blues” he dropped his vocals an octave or two to match those of his former boss, tossing a bit of that much-needed southern dirt on the stately grave left behind by this record.
Sharrard brought with him an equally Allman cred bonafide in former Gregg keyman Peter Levin, who proved to be a joyful, blissed out presence as he rolled those G. Allman signature organ lines out over the swaying heads. If you closed your eyes during “Done Somebody Wrong” or “Stormy Monday” your could swear it was Brother Gregg up there. Another key presence was London Souls firebrand Tash Neal who injected some propulsive, in-the-red fast break solos that acted as counterpart to Sharrard’s more trad-leaning delivery.
While “Statesboro” and the Pagano-sung “Done Somebody Wrong” toiled in the dirty southern waters of small town ennui and romantic pitfalls, punching somewhere near the same targets as the Fillmore originals (only with some added grit kicked in for good measure), the slow rolling “Stormy Monday” was the first track that veered away from the Allman Bros template, with Tash’s purposefully sloppy lead adding a touch of Exile swing to an original which, to my ears, always sounded a bit too textbook country blues trad on the first go-round. A hippie horn duo, along with Dopapod guitarist Rob Compa, joined the festivities for a version of “You Don’t Love Me” that rung much fuller and more wanton than the Fillmore version, and a bring-down-the-house “Hot’Lanta” that shook the wall I was leaning against at the far end of the alley.
I was looking forward to taking a pee break during “Elizabeth Reed” since, short of Dickey Betts making a tequila-fueled surprise appearance, I really had no interest in hearing what has always been my “skip forward to ‘Whipping Post’, mannnn” moment on Fillmore. The presence of a leather jacket on stage caught my attention, however, and upon closer look it appeared to be draped across the slimmed-down shoulders of none other than Jason Isbell. What followed was a truly searing re-write of a tired classic, the kind of spectacle that makes a drum solo seem perfectly forward-thinking, with Sharrard, Tash, and Izzy trading dueling, mourning lead lines that never tangled up despite the seemingly un-rehearsed nature of Jason’s guest appearance. With all his collected singer-songwriter tokens of recent years, it’s easy to forget that Jason Isbell is an exceedingly smooth and pure blues-based electric guitarist, and his runs on “Reed” were executed with a near-surgical precision that seemed to awe even the seasoned Allman devotees on the stage.
If there’s one thing Jason Isbell’s presence in a half-full bowling alley for an Allman Brothers tribute show proves, it’s that this guy was never really designed to be a Pitchfork-approved “indie” music industry darling. At heart Isbell is a true southern rocker dude through-and-through, the kind who puts out an occasional folk-based songwriter album when the mood hits him, in between forays on the summer jam circuit and fiery DBT rocker records on boutique labels. Sure, he’ll take the acclaim and the Father John Misty tour money, he’d be a fool not to, but his presence at events such as these is a very smart move. Isbell is most likely well aware that the Pitchforks of the world will turn on you eventually, the moment you stop generating the right numbers of clicks or when the fickle mobs turn against you, and that the warm embrace of a robust and grassroots jam circuit may be all one has to fall back on. This isn’t to say that jamming on “Reed” is purely a business move, since the man appeared to be fully delighted to be up there cranking out this material, and the soul-brother handshake I saw him exchange with Levin behind the organ proved his official membership in this comfortable and loose jammy dreamworld.
Fittingly, the “Whipping Post” jam was entirely colossal, missing only the stoned-out audience member shouting “Whippppingggg Posssssttttt” like on the record, and I’m pretty sure they worked in a bit of “Mountain Jam” at the 22-or-so minute mark. You can make fun of “Whipping Post” all you want, but you can’t erase the fact that this is a spiraling, exceedingly dark betrayal anthem with an in-the-pocket bass line that would easily power any of today’s trap bangers. On this night the beast burned with a menace and fervor that caused even the scattered groups of bowlers on the lanes to stand at attention.
Even though it isn’t on Fillmore, I was kind of hoping this collective would take on my all time fave Allman track, “One Way Out”, and sure enough the whole crew came out to encore on just this Eat A Peach classic. Isbell took the lead vox on this one, his Alabama twang ringing just the right paranoid bells on the chorus, “There’s a man down there, just might be your man, I don’t know.” Amanda Shires was out there too for this one, and I swear at one point she played a hand-picked fiddle solo that hit the exact notes Dickey laid down on his Les Paul 50 moons previous.
Just like the rest of the show, the One Way Out encore was spontaneous and loose yet somehow executed just right, capturing the forward-thinking, clear-eyed but complicated, bursting-at-the-bell-bottom-seams ripeness of the Fillmore recordings whose impact has been unfairly dulled down by years of Rolling Stone tribute issues classic rock FM dust.