Grace Slick - vocals; Marty Balin - vocals, percussion; Paul Kantner - vocals, guitar; Jorma Kaukonen - lead guitar; Jack Casady - bass; Spencer Dryden - drums
The late October 1966 Jefferson Airplane Fillmore recordings are fascinating historical documents, capturing the band just days before they began recording their classic Surrealistic Pillow album, right at the transition point when Grace Slick joined the group. This early February 1967 run, a mere three months later, is perhaps even more interesting, as it captures the band within days of that album's release.
In concert, Grace Slick is beginning to display a much stronger, more charismatic stage presence; and instrumentally, the band has become significantly more aggressive and adventurous, particularly Kaukonen and Casady, who are already beginning to propel the group's sonic directions into areas previously unexplored. This is a magic moment in the band's history, occurring just prior to "The Summer of Love." Within the next few months, the band would begin gaining international attention, and consequently, experience countless new pressures and difficulties that would ultimately cause this classic lineup to splinter into various factions. For a brief time, however - captured clearly on the recordings during this run - Jefferson Airplane's music was truly a group effort and almost perfectly balanced.
The final Jefferson Airplane set of this remarkable run again features the band at a uniquely transitional stage as artists, just as they were evolving from their early first album sound into the more classic Surrealistic Pillow era style. Only one song, Skip Spence's "My Best Friend," is featured from the new material, but the new vocal blend cultivated by Slick, Balin and Kantner is finally reaching fruition, and greatly enhances much of the material from the debut album.
The recording begins with the first song, Balin's "Don't Let Me Down," in progress. This number was changing and developing with each performance, and this one beautifully showcases Marty's vocal improvisation abilities against a band that was instrumentally evolving at an incredible rate. "Tobacco Road," "Runnin' 'Round This World" and "High Flying Bird" continue to showcase Balin's vocal gifts; but now Grace is becoming a distinctive vocal presence as well, and the band's sound is becoming much more powerful, with Casady's bass playing getting more adventurous every day and Kaukonen's guitar playing distinctly more biting and aggressive. "My Best Friend" is absolutely lovely, and is delivered here in (not surprisingly) a near perfect rendition, doubtlessly having benefited from the time spent perfecting the tune during the album sessions. "Come Back Baby" gets another workout, with the band almost sounding like a prehistoric version of Hot Tuna.
The set closes with two more first album numbers, "You're Bringing Me Down" and the set-closing "It's No Secret." The former would soon be dropped from the performing repertoire, but the latter would continue to develop into one of the bands most popular live numbers.
With Surrealistic Pillow having been released this same month, this entire run serves to encapsulate the end of the first Jefferson Airplane era and the beginning of the band's second phase, with Grace Slick on board as vocal pilot. Within weeks, the lives of Jefferson Airplane band members would dramatically change, with hit singles, TV appearances and national attention.
Outside influences and pressures were right around the corner, but for a brief moment in time, they achieved a near perfect balance in their music, with everyone contributing to achieve a distinctively authentic sound. These shows give one a wonderful glimpse at the band's music at possibly its purest, freest, most uninhibited state.
Written by Alan Bershaw