Sunday, May 5, 2013


The complete Tim Lucas' Review

It's Friday, March 10 and Jefferson Airplane touches down at
Winterland in their hometown of San Francisco for a weekend of
concerts, supported by blues legends Jimmy Reed and John Lee
Hooker. A sense of moment is in the air: the second single from the
soon-to-be-released SURREALISTIC PILLOW album is only a few weeks
old and the A-side ("Somebody To Love"), on the strength of Grace
Slick's searing lead vocal, has begun to vault them out of the San
Francisco club scene onto the national stage. AM radio will soon
seize upon the sound and the record will catch fire in a big way,
shaking the band to its very foundations before redefining it in a
big way.

What is perhaps most remarkable about these three performances is
that they capture a very brief moment in time when Jefferson
Airplane was entering its full instrumental potential while
founding member Marty Balin was still holding the vocal reigns of
the group. Just listen to the first night's performance of "Don't
Slip Away" from JEFFERSON AIRPLANE TAKES OFF: the album's cautious,
guitar-driven performance is here replaced with a thunderous bass
solo intro by Jack Casady, who is quickly joined by the joyous
swing drumming of Spencer Dryden; the two of them set up an
irresistible groove before guitarists Jorma Kaukonen and Paul
Kantner can jump in. The final instrumental playoff is an
incredible, charging showcase for the band as a whole, with Balin
riding the crest with a voice that is at once virile and vulnerable
and romantic in the best sense. Amazingly, the song's performance
on the following night (when Grace makes the surprise move of
joining Marty on the chorus with an engaging harmony part) would be
its last known appearance on the band's playlist. Also, given rare
public performance on all three nights is "My Best Friend," written
by the group's ex-drummer (and Moby Grape founder) Alexander "Skip"
Spence, which happened to be the first 45rpm single picked from
SURREALISTIC PILLOW by RCA. Reportedly, Casady and Kaukonen loathed
the sweet, AM-friendly number and it was retired from live
performance as soon as "Somebody to Love" freed the group from
their obligation to plug the earlier single.

The band's rising star, Grace Slick, is virtually absent from the
first set, offering some soulful background vocal shadings to
"Tobacco Road" (one of the Airplane's best performances of this
standard) before stepping up to the front mike for "Somebody to
Love." Even seasoned collectors of live Airplane tapes will be
startled by this performance of the song, which stretches out to
incorporate a like-themed Balin stomper called "Leave You Alone."
While it's a lusty, gripping performance, it's hard to get past the
idea that Marty was (subconsciously or not) jealously intruding on
Grace's already meager time in the spotlight, and keeping her "in
her place." (The album and single have yet to be released, but
"White Rabbit" is already attracting the loudest applause when it's
announced.) Similarly, Jorma Kaukonen is given one token vocal
spotlight per night; on all three nights, Jorma burns his way
through "Come Back Baby" (introduced by Marty as "Jorma's Blues"),
a wildcat blues groove which he, Casady, Dryden, Balin (on maracas)
and possibly Kantner had laid down in Hollywood's RCA Studio B only
three days earlier. Jorma's first studio vocal, "Come Back Baby"
sounds like it was being primed for a slot on the band's next
album, but the song remained unreleased until it showed up on the
JEFFERSON AIRPLANE LOVES YOU boxed set, decades later, in 1992.

Other weekend highlights: the kaliedoscopic intro to "The Other
Side of This Life" on the second night, with Jorma's giddily
elastic, dribbling lead carried proudly on the shoulders of Paul
Kantner's chiming Rickenbacker 12-string; Kantner's breathy, time-
bending guitar accents in "Fat Angel" rising from a whisper to
almost horn-like prominence under the first culmination of Jorma's
lead, and Grace joining tentatively in on keyboard; a jam called
"Thing," which had been kicking around in the band's repertoire for
about a year (an earlier, different performance showed up on Koala
Records' 7/22/66 Avalon Ballroom bootleg FAT ANGEL); the first of
only two known live performances of JALY's "Don't Let Me Down" (the
second came in 1970), in which Marty launches on a stoned rant
about the general lameness of folks from other cities they've
visited on tour, and women in general; and a Sunday night jam that
builds to a newly separate version of "Leave You Alone," which
itself segues into a riveting Casady bass solo -- THE Jack moment
of this three-disc offering. (The opening portion of the jam
previously appeared, cut off at the segue into the song, on the
aforementioned FAT ANGEL boot, under the title "Leave You Alone."
Both this and "Things" were later included on the 2400 Fulton
CD/tape tree compilation JEFFERSON AIRPLANE RARITIES in 1999.)

Once "Somebody to Love" and the follow-up "White Rabbit" single
were released, Grace Slick was granted more opportunities to share
the stage with Marty Balin as an equal partner. That equality was
not long to last, given the attention paid to the band's laser-
eyed, laser-tongued siren by the press. That's why I say that these
three nights at Winterland -- for Marty's fans and Airplane
purists, especially -- capture a very special, fleeting moment in
the history of a great band that was bound for different times. On
these discs, the band occupies a twilight state between the band
they were, and the band they would be.

 March 12, 1967
It's No Secret
White Rabbit
Bringing Me Down
Don't Let Me Down
Leave You Alone//
She Has Funny Cars
High Flying Bird
And I Like It
3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds
My Best Friend
Come Back Baby//


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