Grace Slick - vocals, organ; Marty Balin - vocals, percussion; Paul Kantner - vocals, guitar; Jorma Kaukonen - lead guitar; Jack Casady - bass; Spencer Dryden - drums
The three-day run at Fillmore Auditorium toward the end of November 1966 is one of the most fascinating collections of early live Jefferson Airplane recordings for a number of reasons. The five shows that occurred during this run, on a bill that also featured the James Cotton Blues Band and Moby Grape, capture Jefferson Airplane literally days after completing most of the sessions for their breakthrough album, Surrealistic Pillow. Grace Slick had recently replaced Signe Anderson as the female voice of the band and that transition, as well as a wealth of magnificent new material, was about to transform the Airplane into the leading light of the San Francisco music scene. While the band is still relying on first album material when performing, now the Surrealistic Pillow material is beginning to dominate their sets. It is quite remarkable to hear what now are such classic songs when they were so fresh and new. Since the band had spent much of the recent weeks recording in Los Angeles, the new material is performed with a near perfect tightness on the vocal arrangements that would rarely ever be surpassed. The musicians in the band are reaching a new peak of creativity here and these recordings capture them at an incredibly inspired moment in time.
Upon its release, Surrealistic Pillow would soon gain Jefferson Airplane, as well as the San Francisco cultural scene, national attention. This run of shows truly marks the beginning of the classic Jefferson Airplane sound. Within the next few months, the band would be gaining international attention, experiencing many new pressures and they would soon begin splintering into factions. For a brief time, clearly captured on the recordings during this run, Jefferson Airplane's music was truly a group effort and almost perfectly balanced.
This late show on the second night of this run is a perfect example of the musical transition occurring between the first and second albums. The first half of the set primarily features material from the first album plus songs the group had been performing live for some time, while the second half includes fresh exciting versions of Surrealistic Pillow material right at the point they were recording it.
The set kicks off in very strong form with a cover of Fred Neil's "Other Side Of This Life," a song the Airplane had been developing over the course of the past year. Here their work is reaching fruition, with the musicians sounding more aggressive than ever and the vocals becoming a powerful and more distinctive force than ever before. The next two songs concentrate on material from the first album. With Grace Slick's voice now added to the mix, "Bringing Me Down" takes on a new power and Marty Balin's bluesy "And I Like It" has reached its peak. Both of these songs would soon be dropped from the live repertoire, but it is a delight to hear them in context of the more developed Surrealistic Pillow sound. Although these first three songs had been performed for some time, they have a new energy here, sounding heavier than performances just a month or two prior. This shift in the overall sound of the group is even better displayed on the high energy "Go To Her" and a spacey cover of Donovan's "Fat Angel," which clearly head down the path of psychadelia. On the former, Grace Slick's vocal now gives the song a much sharper edge than it ever had before and on the latter, the group is beginning to explore improvisation with glorious results. "Fat Angel" is a fascinating exploration showing just how much the bands music had developed over the last few months.
As great as the previously mentioned material is, it is the remainder of the set that is most impressive, beginning with a rip-roaring take on "3/5 of a Mile In 10 Seconds." Here one can clearly hear the classic Jefferson Airplane sound, with their captivating three-way vocal blend propelled by the unique instrumental approach of Jorma, Jack, and Spencer. In possibly its first performance ever, the version of "Today" that follows is quite beautiful, capturing much of the loving free spirit that launched the "Summer Of Love" six months later.
Needless to say, this primal version of "White Rabbit" is an absolute delight, having occurred just days after the recording sessions. Although incomplete due to tape stock running out, the set closing "Midnight Hour" will also be a welcome listen to Airplane fans as so few versions exist on tape and yet another fine example of the group transitioning away from their earlier folky roots into a fully charged electric band. The Airplane's music was clearly becoming more heady, both lyrically and musically. Over the course of the next year, the group would become international stars and their lives would change forever. Here they are at that pivitol moment when those album sessions were near completion. Soon "White Rabbit" and "Somebody To Love" would begin blaring out of transistor radios all around the world.
Written by Alan Bershaw