The Band were having a good night when they rolled into Washington, D.C.'s Carter Barron Amphitheater in the summer of 1976 for a show that found the Americana pioneers ripping through a set of longtime favorites sprinkled with newer surprises (one of which, "Twilight," wouldn't appear on record until the album Islands was released nearly a year later). However, Carter Barron Amphitheater, Washington DC, July 17th 1976 also documents one of the last performances of the Band's original lineup; only four months later, they would announce their retirement from touring with the famous Last Waltz concert that was documented in Martin Scorsese's acclaimed documentary. Given that this edition of the Band was on its last legs, it's a pleasant surprise that this recording finds them sounding tight and enthusiastic; Robbie Robertson's guitar work in particular is sharp and incisive, Garth Hudson's keyboard work is marvelously evocative, and Levon Helm's drumming and vocals are first-rate (Rick Danko and Richard Manuel are in fine voice as well). Unlike The Last Waltz, this captures the Band without special guests or a horn section, and many of these songs actually sound tighter and more powerful without the gingerbread, especially "The Weight" and "Up on Cripple Creek," while Hudson's keyboard showcase "The Genetic Method" gives one of the group's secret weapons a chance to run wild to impressive effect. This show was professionally recorded for the syndicated radio show The King Biscuit Flower Hour, and though this release sometimes sounds like it might have been taken from a second-generation source, the mix is good and the punch of the performances is impressive. The Last Waltz was meant to document an event, while Carter Barron Amphitheater is just a recording of one night in the life of the Band, but in many ways this finds the group sounding just as good, and confirms they didn't need their rock star friends to drop by to deliver a great show.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming