Funk collective Sly & The Family Stone were riding high in the fall of 1968. Their breakthrough third album “Life” had been released to universal acclaim and they’d already developed a reputation for putting on dynamic, high-energy live performances. On Oct. 4-5, 1968, the band performed four shows at Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore East in New York City. All four were recorded but the tapes sat on a shelf for almost 50 years.
Not only is the four-CD set “Live at The Fillmore East” the first time those concerts have been available, it’s, remarkably, the first-ever official Sly & The Family Stone live recording. I find that almost impossible to believe. And though the recording technology of the 1960s makes this mammoth 34-track, 215-minute set seem a bit primitive compared to today’s standards, the band’s excellence shines through.
A handful of tunes (“Are You Ready,” “Color Me True,” “Won’t Be Long”) made the set list for all four shows, while others (“Dance to the Music,” “M’Lady,” “Music Lover,” “Life”) were performed three times over the two nights. To their credit, Sly & Co. manage to put a new twist on the tunes at every show.
Additional highlights of “Live at The Fillmore East” include the raucous “Chicken,” “The Riffs,” “St. James Infirmary” and the medley of “Turn Me Loose/I Can’t Turn You Loose.” This one’s a must for anyone who loves funk. (Jeffrey Sisk)