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The Fox Box” feature a remastered audio mix and tighter song spacing than the versions that were released at the time.
…The Fox Box sold out its initial 2004 run before being re-released in late 2005. The set’s apparent popularity is at least somewhat understandable, particularly among those seeking immersion in the kind of sprawling experience associated with the band in its heyday. After all, as demonstrated by classic double-disc vinyl sets like At Fillmore East and Eat a Peach, back then the Allmans played with such inspiration, expressiveness, and fire that no one would want to wrench them from the stage until they had wrung every last note from their axes, no matter how long it took.
Given that the early-2000s band had its strongest lineup in years, a really extended live showcase (dwarfing the One Way Out double-CD set) might seem warranted to some — and The Fox Box would surely seem to fit the bill.
The box does make a certain amount of sense from a packaging perspective (although the physical package itself is pretty cheap and cheesy). During their 2004 tour the Allmans could fill up three nights of music with very little repetition, so when they arrived at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta for a three-night run from September 24 through 26, they were able to bring a slew of different music to the ears of the faithful each night. There is some repetition — three versions of “Dreams” (with a different guitarist taking the extended solo each time) and, most egregiously for the home listener, two of those very long drum breaks that really must be experienced live to be appreciated — but for the most part these nine discs tend not to overlap. Most importantly, there is often true inspiration in the playing and the choice of material, not to mention some genuine unpredictability amidst the sprawl.
On the first night, the Allmans bookended their show with the beginning and ending of “Mountain Jam,” originally split between two sides of Eat a Peach, and the next night featured a similar decision, as they bracketed the show with the introduction and main body of “Les Brers in A Minor.” Overall, the music is a nice mix of tried-and-true warhorses, then-recent material from their Hittin’ the Note CD, and the occasional cover such as “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Derek & the Dominos’ “Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad?” seguing directly into the Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower” — with a nice vocal from Oteil Burbridge and “Blue Sky” quotes from the guitars — is a particularly potent pairing, and “Layla” — featuring Derek Trucks on slide — rightfully reclaims the tune as part of the Allman legacy, although the band tends to push the beautiful extended coda just a bit too far into the red. The band is on fire on the first disc of the September 26 show (including “Revival,” “Every Hungry Woman,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” and “End of the Line”); a fearsomely intense level of energy is achieved during Warren Haynes’ “Elizabeth Reed” solo; and the interplay between guitarists Trucks, Haynes, and Jack Pearson on the “Mountain Jam” reprise is pure musical bliss, nostalgic perhaps but that’s just fine, as memories of the most beautiful call-and-response dialogues between Duane and Dickey are conjured up. And speaking of Dickey Betts, his finest early songs are here even if his guitar and singing aren’t, and Gregg Allman’s vocals, quite frankly, provide some soulful heft to a countrified classic like “Blue Sky” without weighing the tune down.
Still, the Instant Live approach has its shortcomings. The band is recorded well, but whoever is responsible for miking the audience on these recordings, apparently to make sure there is plenty of concert ambience, should either turn those mikes down or unplug the damn things completely. As in the early days, this band is capable of some subtlety, but unlike those early days, certain members of the 21st century audience apparently feel that quieter moments are precisely the best times to scream their friggin’ heads off. Hey, everybody loves a party, but why give these particular crazies such prominence in the mix? (Oh, that’s right — they’re the ones buying the CDs after the show is over.) Track indexing can also be problematic: the “Mountain Jam” reprise is needlessly split in two, and it would be nice to have the alternative of programming out the drum break that stretches an otherwise killer “Elizabeth Reed” out past the 30-minute mark (and a hot little blues-rocker like “Black Hearted Woman” nearly hits half an hour for the same reason). For the home listener, those drum breaks provide rare examples of the Allmans stretching their jams past inspiration and into longwindedness.
Regardless, The Fox Box showcases practically everything that the 21st century Allmans could present at their most epic, revealing a band in astoundingly good shape 35 years after its founding. Hearing the group stretch out in 2004 can be a wonderful experience, although if you pop for The Fox Box you might ultimately wish you could edit portions out. — AMG