Cutting through the noise, live at A&R studios
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
It’s not a new problem, but a current one that seems to be invading modern life is that looking up and paying attention to the world is becoming a dumber and more depressing act by the moment.
There’s just so much bad news that it all melds into this endlessly depressive downward motion. The supposed leader of the free world is a malevolent child who happens to be the most mocked man in the world. And as others have pointed out, he’s the perfect avatar to the boring, depressing culture he represents.
In the midst of all this, we’ve lost a couple of icons, two guys who made music that has helped to block out the noise, two guys who created art that helped heal some splintered souls.
In the wake of Chris Cornell’s death, I spent close to a solid week listening to nothing but him — his work in Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave and his solo endeavors. Following the news of Gregg Allman’s death, I came home from a Red Sox game and almost immediately put At Fillmore East on the record player. That has turned into five solid days of revisiting the glory of the Allman Brothers Band, a turn that itself is a call back to a happier time, when I was just a semi-loner in college with more base-level problems and all the happier to spend my time investigating these relics of the past.
This pouring over the Allmans’ discography has been less devastating and more of a positive experience than the Cornell binge, which was brought on by just total shock and grief. That loss is going to burn for years. This, under very different circumstances, was sad but offered a chance to celebrate a lifetime’s work.
So I started out on their Fillmore record and moved on through the catalog — their first albums, Eat a Peach, and various live outings right up to their final show at the Beacon Theater on Oct. 28, 2014. But a relatively recent release, Live from A&R Studios, New York, August 26, 1971 has taken hold recently. It was released late last year by Newbury Comics and it offered yet another glimpse of the original Allman Brothers Band, with Duane on guitar and Berry Oakley on bass, captured in perfect sound.
With less than three years of recorded material by the original sextet, every little artifact becomes valuable. The thing that keeps it from the realm of mere hoarding is the obvious chemistry the band had then, and just how incredible everything was. This was a jazz combo working within the realm of blues and soul, and the output is still dizzying. For as many versions of “Statesboro Blues” or “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” that may be available, each one seems to still offer something new and meaningful.
And within this archival album, there’s yet another nod to fallen heroes and those that came before. Setting up a beautiful, rolling “You Don’t Love Me,” Duane Allman comments on the recent death of saxophonist King Curtis and pleads with the crowd to pick up his then-recent Live at the Fillmore West. And from there, he works Curits’ “Soul Serenade” into the instrumental passage of the song.
It’s nearly 20 minutes of music that’s at once lilting and searing. It captures every one of the original Allman Brothers Band’s strengths, and the spontaneity that was still, somehow, tightly controlled, structured and disciplined. Again, this was not a band that jammed just to see what the water looks like on the other side. This was an exploration that was in service to music and made possible by thousands of hours of practicing to get the chops to be able to explore this solidly.
Within that, there’s a determination and a belief in knowledge and the practice of bettering oneself that the entire band shared. That, more than anything, might be what I miss most when I read the news. There aren’t celebrations of achievement in science and medicine and human rights as much as there are stories of how they’re all being undercut in some kind of greater movement to being as stupid and shallow as possible.
The country is in an extraordinarily dumb place right now. There is an army of sad, disillusioned people who hold this mean, arrogant idiot up as a hero, and a greater swath of people who are even more furious and bewildered this is happening. If it isn’t obvious yet, I have no idea how to fix this. I try to do good things and help the right people and support the right causes in ways beyond merely venting about them online in some meme-ready way.
But in those personal moments where I just want to feel better, this is where I turn. It’s markedly to the past. It’s Gregg Allman’s voice and Duane Allman’s guitar soaring above the noise, reminding me that there are still good sounds out there to block out the nonsense.
May 31, 2017
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org