Audio Mixer: Joe Palmaccio.
Liner Note Authors: Greg Errico; Arno Konings; Jerry Martini; Cynthia Robinson.
Recording information: CBS Records Studios (10/04/1968/10/05/1968); Fillmore East, NYC (10/04/1968/10/05/1968).
When Sly & the Family Stone seized Manhattan's Fillmore East for a two-night, four-set stand in October 1968, the sonically and socially advanced band was just starting to cook. Earlier in the year, "Dance to the Music" became their first charting single, a Top 10 pop hit. They were pushing their third album, Life, so the repertoire was still rather limited. As detailed in this generous release's liner notes, written by biographers Edwin and Arno Konings, the Epic label intended to assemble an album from these performances, but the plan was ditched once "Everyday People" -- the first single from Stand!, still months away from hitting shelves -- took flight and went to number one. That smash was issued only a month after the gigs, but the band didn't preview it on-stage, at least not the way the sets are documented here. Live at the Fillmore East October 4th & 5th, 1968 contains a representation of all four sets. Each one must be at least close to complete, as they're between 40 and 65 minutes in length, and contain some flubs and the working out of some technical issues. Despite playing roughly the same songs each set while knowing that they were being recorded, the band continually switched up the sequencing of the set lists -- "M'Lady" was placed up front and saved toward the end, for instance -- and the musicians played loose enough to allow for some spontaneity and variable interaction. The band's vitality, as they continually stomped through material from all three albums, is no surprise. Material from the first album and "Dance to Music" are played with equal levels of conviction. Sly's demeanor is consistently fervent and poised. The whole gang is at the top of their game. What's truly revelatory is that each set featured a Sister Rosie Stone-fronted version of "Won't Be Long," a song popularized seven years earlier by Aretha Franklin and the Ray Bryant Combo. It wallops each time, particularly so on the first night's early set. That a studio version wasn't released is as baffling as the heretofore absence of a live album. As heard here, they were playing like indisputable giants, not like a band fighting for a second hit. The CD edition is especially nice -- a fold-out cardboard package with sharp, true-to-the-era artwork for each disc. It tops the double-vinyl edition, a truncated and smart selection made by the Roots' Captain Kirk Douglas, released months earlier for Record Store Day. ~ Andy Kellman
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