When the Queen of Soul records a live album at one of the iconic live rock venues, things are never going to be anything less than interesting.
Aretha Franklin, as ever, is a smart operator. She knows that not everyone attending tonight is her usual audience, so the set list is heavy with covers of material originally penned by some of rock and roll’s finest acts. While they may not be familiar with her, most of them will be familiar with a lot of the songs and her charisma will do all the rest.
Franklin, while perhaps suffering a few nerves, certainly doesn’t let them effect her performance. She knows she has to win this audience over, and an arresting performance is the best way to do that. She’s at her imperious best throughout this concert recording, with a smart re-work of “Eleanor Rigby” being a glorious highlight and one of the more interesting covers of a Beatles original you are likely to hear.
Where Areatha Live at Filmore West stumbles a little is it’s lack of dynamic flow. It sounds like individual songs taken from one great show. This was driven home when a limited edition deluxe edition of the complete unexpurgated recordings were released a few years ago. This is a good concert recording, but it could have been so much better if they’d gone the double album route. That said, the single disc version is a classy live recording of the Queen of Soul at the height of her powers, performing her hits, a bunch of well selected cover versions, and reprising “Spirit in the Dark” with no less an icon than Ray Charles.
Entire careers have been built on less than this album.