It takes an aircraft-carrier of a release such as Live at the Beacon Theatre to remind us just how unique the Allman Brothers Band always was and still is. Traditionally a byword for down-home R&B/country blues-rock, the reality is that the band's gigantic sound is almost a musical form in itself. Make no mistake, the Allmans are still making big music, now with a two-guitar front line as well as their trademark two-drummer rhythm section (augmented these days with an additional percussionist), plus Gregg Allman's Hammond cutting through all of this like a serrated knife.
Compared to the gargantuan Live/1975-85, 2001's Live in New York City seems like the very definition of restraint, but consider this – not only does it span two discs, it leaves out a considerable portion of the set list from the show and thereby the set list of Springsteen's celebrated 2000 reunion with the E Street Band. Some critics complained that this record was little more than a tie-in to the HBO special of the same name, but even if that's true, the record would have merit since it illustrates exactly why this group should never have parted ways. In a sense, even if this is the third live album in Springsteen's catalog, it's the first that attempts to replicate the feeling of an evening out with the E Street Band (the Live/1975-85 box tried too hard to be an ultimate experience; MTV Plugged captured a transitional phase).
This two-CD set won't cause you to throw out your copy of Fillmore East, but it is at very least a worthy companion to that 1971 classic. Recorded the previous year at the famed Cincinnati venue (but not released until 1991), Ludlow catches the band in the moments just before their peak. Some of the material will be familiar to fans, but this collection adds gems such as John Lee Hooker's "Dimples" and the blues classic "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town" to their recorded repertoire. And if you thought the 33-minute "Mountain Jam" on Eat a Peach was extensive, you need to hear Ludlow's 44-minute version, which comprises the entire second CD.