Signe Anderson - vocals
Marty Balin - vocals, percussion
Paul Kantner - vocals, guitar
Jorma Kaukonen - lead guitar
Jack Casady - bass
Spencer Dryden - drums
This Sunday afternoon Jefferson Airplane set, sandwiched between sets by the Grateful Dead and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, concluded a memorable three-day run at Fillmore Auditorium. At this point in time, Spencer Dryden had recently replaced original drummer Skip Spence, who had moved on to found Moby Grape. Original female vocalist, Signe Anderson, was still on board, soon to be replaced by Grace Slick.
The group was clearly forging ahead into new territory, beginning to leave most of their folk roots behind. Dryden and Casady were beginning to develop into one of the most powerful and original sounding rhythm sections in all of rock music. Their contribution was inspiring the other bandmembers to take a more adventurous approach, especially Jorma Kaukonen, who was becoming a powerful lead guitarist, and Marty Balin, who was beginning to improvise vocally.
This new approach is evident from the start of their set. Following Bill Graham's introduction, the group immediately launches into an improvisational jam, clearly a departure from the tight vocal arrangements of their early material. This 10-minute workout eventually becomes "Don't Let Me Down," a song that was consciously left open ended so that Balin could improvise vocally while the musicians improvised instrumentally. This song would continue its metamorphosis over coming months, becoming shorter and more defined as time went on. At this early stage, it was still quite experimental and more adventurous.
The next three songs, "Don't Slip Away," "Let Me In," and "And I Like It," represent material from their debut album and display the perfect balance they were beginning to achieve between vocal and instrumental arrangements. This balance is what set them apart from many of their contemporaries. Bands like the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service also had superb adventurous musicians during this early era, but in the vocal department, few could match the dynamic vocal prowess of the Airplane.
Jorma Kaukonen usually got a showcase song in these early sets where he could demonstrate his love for the blues, and this set is no exception. However, on this set we are treated to an early performance of Jimmy Reed's "Baby, What You Want Me To Do," a song that is extremely rare among early Airplane setlists. It's a wonderful performance and, not surprisingly, points to the musical areas Kaukonen and Casady would eventually explore in Hot Tuna years later.
The set ends with a fascinating early rendition of "3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds," one of the powerhouse songs soon to be recorded for Surrealistic Pillow. Still being defined, this early version clearly shows where the group is heading and it's particularly interesting to hear the band play it with Signe Anderson on board.
Another wonderful example of early Jefferson Airplane in full flight.
Written by Alan Bershaw