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The Allman Brothers Band (from the album Manley Field House, Syracuse University, April 7, 1972 available on Allman Brothers Band Recording Company) (by Lee Zimmerman)
From the moment WAER Radio announcer Steve Huntington bids the crowd gathered at Syracuse University’s Manley Field an enthusiastic welcome, it’s clear that a momentous event is about to unfold. Huntington pours on the praise, hailing the headliners he’s introducing as nothing less than the ‘best damn band we’re ever gonna hear’, because, after all, at the time this concert was recorded — April 7, 1972 — the Allman Brothers Band were at the peak of their prowess. Not that they hadn’t suffered a terrible tragedy — just five months before Duane Allman had been killed in a motorcycle accident, robbing the group of one of its most prominent players. In six months time, they’d be dealing with another horrible situation, when bassist Berry Oakley would meet the same fate as Duane, practically a year later.
Still, the Allmans were pursuing a steady stride that April evening, just over 50 years ago. Duane’s demise hadn’t deterred them from pursuing the promise spawned from their first four albums — their eponymous debut, Idlewild South, At Fillmore East and Eat a Peach, each an epic outing that elevated these homegrown Macon, Georgia heroes to the top of Rock’s highest plateau. To be sure, there have been no shortage of Allman Brothers live albums, far outnumbering their studio offerings, and many of them of the posthumous variety. As far as rivals are concerned, they may be second only to the Grateful Dead when it comes to concert collections of the archival variety.
Nevertheless, anyone who thinks they might already own all the essential Allmans albums ought not sell the Manley Field House recordings short. Suffice it to say that it equates with At Fillmore East, at least in terms of power and potency. That’s certainly saying something, considering the fact that the latter is still ranked as one of the greatest live albums ever released. So too, Duane’s absence is palatable and pronounced; after all, it would be absurd to believe otherwise.
Nevertheless, the other band members rise to the challenge. Oakley and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks do an exceptional job of anchoring the rhythm, while Dickey Betts steps up to fill the void left by Duane’s absence. Not surprisingly, Gregg Allman assumes command on vocals and keys, taking on the role he would play for the remainder of the original band’s existence. So too, the songs that fill out this two CD set — “Statesboro Blues”, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”, “One Way Out”, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”, “Whipping Post”, and “Midnight Rider” chief among them — stand up to the established standards while being every bit as fiery and finessed as before.
Syracuse witnessed an amazing show that April evening. Happily, it’s preserved for prosperity. Noting that it was simply an exceptional evening doesn’t begin to do it justice. (by Lee Zimmerman)
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