THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: LIVE AT LUDLOW GARAGE (1970/1991)
1) Dreams; 2) Statesboro Blues; 3) Trouble No More; 4) Dimples; 5) Every Hungry Woman; 6) I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town; 7) Hoochie Coochie Man; 8) Mountain Jam.
As befits every legendary live outfit, the Allmans had hoarded tons of archive recordings from the good old days. Their vaults seem to be fairly thin when it comes to unreleased studio material (no big wonder there, since most of the material was thoroughly tried and tested live before being committed to vinyl, so that usually the Allmans went into the studio with a fairly good idea of what they were going to do); live shows are a whole different matter, and as of 2010, there are at least eight or ten officially endorsed retrospective live albums covering dates from 1970 all the way to 1973 — not counting, of course, the millions of bootlegs.
Not all of these releases are of comparable sound quality, and, of course, writing individual reviews for each one only makes sense if you are a paid biographer of the band or, at least, Mark Prindle, who can use each review as one more opportunity to inform you of one more turbulent event in his oversaturated life. Me being neither of the two, I will limit myself to just a few of these archival treasures — not necessarily the best ones, since I haven't heard everything, but you will just have to let the inductive method decide about the rest.
Live At Ludlow Garage, played and recorded at a small local club in Cincinnati sometime in April 1970, about one year before the legendary Fillmore set, is the earliest of these releases — it came out in 1991, just as the Allmans were making their big comeback with Haynes, and it was certainly a good time to remind the world what it actually used to be, that particular thing that they eventually came back for.
Most listeners agree that the sound is fairly raw and unpolished here (well, they do play in a garage, after all, har har) compared to the Fillmore gigs, and that, taken together with the imperfections of the equipment, this makes it understandably inferior. Inferior, perhaps, in the sense that Fillmore East should certainly be one's first buy regarding the original lineup. But there is no reason why Ludlow Garage could not be a close second. For one thing, it is fun — and, from time to time, inspiring — to experience the Allmans in this sort of raw form, when the long jams and multi-section performances had not yet been rehearsed to utter smoothness, and the Bros. would occasionally compensate for their rough edges with extra loudness, shrillness, and aggression. For another thing, as imperfect as the sound quality is (and it is really fairly good), it brings the dead guys — Duane and bassist Berry Oakley — way up in the mix most of the time, giving all us dead guy fans an extra reason to own this.
In terms of rarities, this is worth hearing if only for a grizzled, rabid version of John Lee Hooker's 'Dimples', with Hooker's minimalistic riffs transformed into scorching heavy blues the way the old master could never anticipate. The slow nine-minute blues version of 'Outskirts Of Town' had, by the time Fillmore rolled along, ceded its position on the playlist to 'Stormy Monday Blues', but is in no way inferior — and culminates in a mad sea of absolutely flaming licks from Betts practicing his soon-to-be-'Southbound' piercing tone. There is also a rarely heard live stomping version of the Oakley-sung 'Hoochie Coochie Man'; and 'Statesboro Blues' gets an extra four-minute coda as Duane teases the audience with volume level tricks.
Above all, there is a goddamn fourty-four minute long take on 'Mountain Jam' — longer than the Eat A Peach standard version by about eleven minutes, much of them courtesy of Mr. Oakley who takes quite a bit of time to play his solo part, much heavier and fuzzier than on the Peach version. Myself, having eventually become a convert to the religion of 'Mountain Jam' based on its Fillmore incarnation, I have no problem whatsoever with these fourty-four minutes either, but all those who still do — well, beware, this thing occupies the whole of Disc 2.
Anyway, these are the fuckin' Allman Bros. in their prime, in terrific shape, all set and burning to go, and after a few listens, you may even grow to love this sound quality — on no other record do the Bros. sound this much like a pack of dangerous outlaws playing for their lives. Thumbs up.
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