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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Al Kooper: Fillmore East - The Lost Concert Tapes


1) Introductions; 2) One Way Out; 3) Mike's Introduction Of Johnny Winter; 4) It's My Own Fault; 5) The 59th Street Bridge Song; 6) (Please) Tell Me Partner; 7) That's All Right Mama; 8) Together Till The End Of Time; 9) Don't Throw Your Love On Me Too Strong; 10) Season Of The Witch.

For those who have thoroughly enjoyed the Fillmore West shows of Kooper and Bloomfield, released in 1969, the Legacy label now offers a generous bonus — here are the same dudes playing Fillmore East now, with a good selection of numbers from shows played on December 13–14, 1968, three months after the Fillmore West gigs. Despite not spending a lot of time toge­ther to rehearse new stuff, the young guitar wiz and the idealistic organ pro were still on an adven­turous kick, and there are only four tracks that overlap between the two shows, making The Lost Concert Tapes a solidly new piece of the old puzzle and a must-have for...

...well, actually, let us not get carried away. Most of the people who even heard of the release of this record, let alone bought it or reviewed it, were probably major fans anyway, so the few gene­ric reviews of it that you might be able to read are likely to be ecstatic. I, however, am doing this from more of a completist angle, and it is a rather unfavorable angle to Fillmore East. The album is shorter, lacks the element of surprise, does not quite give the same impression of a sympathetic chaotic mess, and, simply put, is far more boring.

The biggest problem is that out of the album's 60 minutes, almost half are given over to stereo­typical — and deadly slow — 12-bar electric blues. It does not help matters much that the first of these boasts the participation of young Johnny Winter, who had just had his first album released and attracted the attention of Bloomfield: Mike advertises him ecstatically, then recedes into the background for much of the time while Johnny struts his cool Texan blues stuff, sounding more or less like what he always sounds like — a post-Clapton, pre-Stevie Ray type of middleman. I actually find more fire in Bloomfield's response solos, although the best moment of ʽIt's My Own Faultʼ is probably nearer the end where they finally decide to trade some lines between each other. But yeah, good technique and all.

Unfortunately, this is soon followed by ʽPlease Tell Me Partnerʼ, another ten-minute blues that sounds exactly like ʽIt's My Own Faultʼ; and towards the end, we have Albert King's ʽDon't Throw Your Love On Me So Strongʼ because, apparently, there is nothing Fillmore East audien­ces enjoyed better than slow blues-de-luxe played at tortoise speed. Somehow, this abundance of the slow blues template never seemed particularly annoying at the Fillmore West shows, so I am guessing that they may have wanted to vary their setlists for the next set of gigs, but did not have the time to do it properly, and settled upon blues improvisation instead (ʽPlease Tell Me Partnerʼ definitely sounds like a last-minute filler piece, especially considering its inane lyrics).

Other than the blues stuff, three songs here completely overlap with the Live Adventures setlist (including yet another super-slow performance of ʽThe 59th Street Bridge Songʼ), and the only pleasant surprise is a sharp take on ʽSeason Of The Witchʼ at the very end: Bloomfield does not exactly put Steven Stills to shame, but his own proto-punkish guitar language agrees very well with the song's fuzzy ominousness, and watch out for fine session bass player Jerry Jemmott's fretline-exploring bassline, too.

Overall, I am not calling the album any bad names: I just think that the few months separating Al's and Mike's West Coast gigs from their East Coast ones did not result in any new ideas, and that this particular setlist seems somewhat rushed and let's-try-it-out-and-see-what-happens to me; which, granted, is not always a bad approach by definition, but in this particular case, has resulted in a flawed experience. Mike Bloomfield is a magnificent guitarist, but he is really at his best when playing ʽTombstone Bluesʼ-like material: wasting his undeniable talent on one slow 12-bar blues number after another is barely forgivable. Therefore, proceed at your own risk.

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