Aretha Live at Filmore West hits the ground running with a revved-up performance of "Respect" and Lady Soul's promise to the largely "hippie" audience that they will "enjoy this performance as much as any you have ever had the occasion to see." She makes good on that guarantee, and then some, with her take on "Love the One You're With," as different from the Steven Stills original as midnight is to dawn. Aretha's greatest strength lies in her ability to completely redefine source material, and nowhere is that more apparent than in her renditions of "Eleanor Rigby" and "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." Those two covers define the phrase, "it's not so much what you say as how you say it." And how she says it sends a shiver up the spine and a gut shot to the soul.
But where Aretha Live at Filmore West shines most brightly is when she unabashedly returns to her gospel/blues roots, and it is here that she ultimately holds the audience captive. "Dr. Feelgood" begins as an earthy, blues-infused tune that stretches into an all-out revival for over four minutes, with the audience caught up in the spirit, "amen-ing" her every utterance. As it segues into "Spirit in the Dark," Aretha holds the crowd utterly under her sway. Like an A.M.E. preacher, she takes utmost advantage of the opportunity, unexpectedly bringing "the righteous reverend" Ray Charles to the stage to reprise the song. A spontaneous jam, the likes of which had never been heard, ensues. The electricity in that performance ranks as one of those "great moments" in the evolution of rock and roll.
Aretha Live at Filmore West is an indispensable album for anybody remotely interested in the evolution of rock and roll, soul or pop music in general. This edition also includes outtakes and alternative mixes culled from those three nights, not included in previous issues of the album. This isn't just pop music history. It is soul at its very best.