For the first time anywhere -- officially or not -- two (mostly) complete performances by the Allman Brothers at the Atlanta International Pop Festival over the Fourth of July weekend (they were the bookends of the fest) in 1970 have been issued with stellar sound, complete annotation and cool liner notes. The festival took place while the Allmans were in the process of recording their second album, Idlewild South, when they appeared on July 3 as the hometown openers of the entire festival and proceeded to blow the minds of over 100,000 people -- for their last set on July 5 at 3:50 a.m. they performed in front of as many as 500,000. Musically, other than a somewhat stiff version of "Statesboro Blues," the July 3 set is magical. There is a stunning version of "Dreams" lasting almost ten minutes with beautiful Hammond/guitar interplay between Gregg and Dickey. Long and ferocious versions of "Whipping Post" and "Mountain Jam" are here, but the track on the July 3 set is Berry Oakley's feral vocal read of Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man." " A short (5:49) version of this song, it has a rock & roll immediacy that is strained out of the longer versions to gain the improvisational edge. Disc one also restores Gregg Allman's "Every Hungry Woman," to its rightful place -- previously only having been available on an anthology. Harp player Thom Doucette, no stranger to ABB fans, is here aplenty, adding his righteous, stinging harp lines to many tracks on both nights. The way Gregg's organ playing is recorded here offers a new view of just how integral an anchor he was for both guitarists to play off. He is a monster musician and, even at this early date, was showing off his improvisational and rhythmic skills.
Disc two is graced by the original live mixes of "Statesboro Blues" and "Whipping Post" that were released on First Great Rock Festivals of the Seventies and these are stunning for their intensity and focus, as well as clarity. "Don't Keep Me Wonderin'" is as tough a set opener as there is with the ringing slide guitars attacking one another and going for broke to kick things off. The long versions of "Stormy Monday" and "'Liz Reed" are among the most intimate and groundbreaking the band ever recorded, while "Whipping Post" transmutes itself into a jazz tune for a few minutes and changes everything. The nearly half-hour "Mountain Jam" is deepened here by the addition of a third guitarist: Johnny Winter sits in with the ABB and Doucette for the definitive version of this classic -- you can forget the one on Eat a Peach after this. While it won't replace Live at the Fillmore East as the greatest live record ever made, this is an essential purchase for ABB fans, one that gives us the treat of a dignified rendering of a very important and defining moment in the band's early career. It also provides an excellent, even mind-blowing introduction to a band that was at the peak of its power. ~ Thom Jurek