Sly & the Family Stone
Live at the Fillmore East: October 4th & 5th, 1968 (Sony Legacy)
Reviewed by Kahron Spearman, Fri., June 19, 2015
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 first show runs under 40 minutes, a mostly educated trial and error case, with a "Well, let's see what happens if we push this button" attitude. Steadier on the second show of the first night, the band still twiddles with experimentation. A group in constant discovery mode, they throw in a Louis Armstrong-influenced take on "St. James Infirmary." On the second day, there's complete mastery of both the music and venue. The Family peaks during the magnificent medleys, slow builds, and jubilant up-tempo numbers, including "Dance to the Music." There's an enduring ebb and flow, and perhaps some intentional indecision, as the Denton-born Sylvester Stewart swings the band from humanist psychedelia to Church of God in Christ gospel modulation, James Brownian run-outs, and even showtune sing-alongs. Although a compilation of the four shows' best moments was planned for release, the project got shelved after the success of "Everyday People." Even closing in on 50 years later, the event stands as a significant foretelling of a relatively short, but incredibly influential musical era right around the corner.