ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: WIPE THE WINDOWS, CHECK THE OIL, DOLLAR GAS (1976)
1) Introduction by Bill Graham; 2) Wasted Words; 3) Southbound; 4) Ramblin' Man; 5) In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed; 6) Ain't Wastin' Time No More; 7) Come & Go Blues; 8) Can't Lose What You Never Had; 9) Don't Want You No More; 10) It's Not My Cross To Bear; 11) Jessica.
The band finally collapsed in 1976, mainly due to Gregg's tribulations. Final straws included marriage with Cher and testifying against the band's road manager and chief drug supplier Scooter Herring; most of the band decided they would have nothing to do with a silly playboy and a stool pigeon to boot, and quit to form Sea Level, whereas Betts went on his solo way. The worst thing was that they'd lost Chuck Leavell, once and for all; the band would never again be able to boast that kind of powerful piano sound (and, as a keyboardist, Gregg himself was never more than just adequate — he likes playing the Hammond, for sure, but his technique and passion for it has always been the weak link in the band's collective chemistry).
This double-LP live memento fulfills the function of the obligatory rip-off on the part of the music industry: unable to acquire further studio product, they decided to go with this rag-bag of recordings culled from different venues over a three-year period, clumsily sewn together as if to reenact a real live show, but with the tracks constantly fading in and out, there is no such effect. Yet, as a memento of the band's immediate post-Duane years, it works, and is well worth listening to from time to time.
Unfortunately, with Betts dominating the stage now, the Allmans live have quickly transformed from the unpredictable jam monster they used to be into a mere A-level Southern rock band, content with faithfully reproducing their studio hits (and misses) for packs of new fans who were happy to simply hear the hits. And it is easy to see why, by simply comparing this album's lone jam number, 'Elizabeth Reed', with the older version on Fillmore East: without Duane and his imaginative stage explorations, there was no point. The man's place on that track is now occupied by keyboardists — Leavell and Gregg — and even Leavell seems to be playing his generic jazzy bits without supplying them with meaning, let alone Allman who is not able of handling it at all. They should have cut down the length here, instead of expanding it, and just allowed Dickey his usual solo, which, of course, does not fail.
Everything else is just faithfully reproduced standards from the band's three post-Duane albums; the only «oldie» on the setlist is 'Don't Want You No More / It's Not My Cross To Bear' from the debut, suffering from the lack of Duane, but still making their point. 'Southbound' sounds murdered to my ears because of Betts' nonchalance (his playing here relates to the original the same way a two-dollar penknife relates to a Fairbairn-Sykes); somehow he only really comes to life in the end, perhaps goaded by the unyielding perfection of Leavell's solo part. But he does much better on 'Ramblin' Man' and 'Jessica', and as for 'Can't Lose What You Never Had', I've always suspected that they used an alternate studio take — all of the sound is so brilliantly polished that either it is all a fake, or, somehow, somewhere, they did happen to be recorded on fire even during one of the shakiest periods in their touring history.
In all, it is a good, carefully assembled portrait of «The Allman Brothers, Mark II» that needs to be perceived as nothing more and nothing less; no one ever seriously claimed that it would aspire to the cosmic heights of Fillmore. Apart from the butchered 'Southbound', the boring keyboard solos on 'Elizabeth Reed', and the completely baffling album title (did the band even play any Chuck Berry songs in the first place? What was that all about?), it's all decent. Thumbs up.
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