Release Date: Jul 17, 2015
Record label: Legacy
Genre(s): R&B, Soul, Funk
“It was all celebration, all affirmation, a music of endless humor and delight, like a fantasy of freedom. ” Greil Marcus gives this emotionally resonant description of Sly and the Family Stone’s early work in his essential 1975 dive into the ancestry of American pop music, Mystery Train. While writing his chapter on Sly, the effects of the artist’s game-changing 1971 haze-bomb There’s a Riot Going On were fresh in Marcus’ mind, lending an understandable sense of melancholy to his analysis.
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.
When Sly and the Family Stone recorded their gigs at the Fillmore East in New York City, they were one of America's best live bands, but they were also a one-hit wonder. They'd had a Top 10 single in 1967 with "Dance to the Music", but their follow-up, "Life", and the album of the same title, had both stiffed. The plan, apparently, was to release an album of the Fillmore gigs to show off what the Family Stone could do on stage—and, perhaps, get some traction with the free-form FM radio stations that were popping up all over.
Based on the last “reunion” gig Sly & The Family Stone committed to – a whopping three-whole minutes into a song at the 2006 Grammys before Sly Stone walked off stage – the chances of ever hearing the band perform any new shows live again is about as likely as someone admitting to liking Nickleback unironically. But thanks to the folks at Epic/Legacy who took a deep walk into the company vaults recently, fans now have something new to obsess over. The label unearthed a stellar collection of songs the band recorded over two night in 1968.
By October 1968, Sly & the Family Stone had already sent a tsunami over popular music, quickly obliterating faded ideas of how a popular band could be conceptualized. That year's Dance to the Music, featured here throughout with the subsequent Life, represented a quantum leap forward, steering soul into a new, heavily co-opted psychedelic path, while also helping lay the groundwork for funk. Recorded just weeks prior to the release of archetypal single "Everyday People," this two-night, four-show event at the Fillmore East captures the band at the precipice of greatness.
The years 1967 and 1969 were known for their festivals, but live music in the ’60s may have had no better year than 1968, when club rock hit a kind of Hall of Fame peak. The days of rubbish amps and teenybopper gaggles were in the past, and the two Fillmore venues — one on each coast — were the psychedelic Mecca and Medina of the post-pop crowd. “Sly and the Family Stone: Live at the Fillmore East — October 4th & 5th, 1968,” a four-disc set, released last week and comprising four shows played across two nights, is sourced from New York — and, one might add, plenty of people’s wish lists, since there has been so little live Sly available over the years.