Grace Slick - vocals; Marty Balin - vocals, percussion; Paul Kantner - vocals, guitar; Jorma Kaukonen - lead guitar; Jack Casady - bass; Joey Covington - drums
As the 1960s dissolved into the 1970s, the political climate in America was reaching a turbulent peak. The music of Jefferson Airplane, which had strongly reflected the peace and love ethic of the 1960s counterculture, was now reflecting this turbulent political climate. The group was also experiencing internal changes, splitting into factions and beginning to pursue outside projects. Although everyone still brought their work back to the band, Jefferson Airplane was developing several personalities which, in retrospect, clearly point to the future paths of the individual members. Kaukonen and Casady had begun actively performing as Hot Tuna, both independently and as an opening act for The Airplane. Their first acoustic album was released that year, the first of many Airplane offshoot projects to follow. Paul Kantner was in the process of releasing his first solo album, Blows Against The Empire, which would surface in October of 1970 featuring contributions from both Airplane members and various friends including Jerry Garcia and David Crosby. Front man Marty Balin had begun working with another local band, Bodacious D.F., and, although still on board, was becoming increasingly dismayed and would soon exit the group.
The most overt sonic change of 1970 was the addition of Joey Covington, who had recently replaced Spencer Dryden on drums. One immediate result was an intensity increase in Jack Casady's bass playing which had always been muscular, but was now becoming even more so. By the latter half of the year, Covington would also begin contributing material to band's onstage repertoire. Covington lacked Dryden's finesse and tasteful restraint, but his more muscular approach to drumming contributed a new forceful dynamic and raw edge to the band.
All of these elements would have a profound effect on the group's recordings and live performances. Although the group would experience further personnel changes and soldier on for another two years, 1970 would be the last year that the founding members of the classic lineup (Balin, Slick, Kantner, Kaukonen and Casady) would all perform on stage together for nearly two decades. Despite the increasingly schizophrenic nature of the group during that tumultuous year, they often delivered powerful performances.
A fine example was a two-night stand in September on their home turf in San Francisco, when the band performed live at Bill Graham's legendary Fillmore West. Despite being a Monday and Tuesday night, both shows display the group in strong form. Featuring both a choice selection of songs from the group's 1960s catalogue as well as quite a bit of new material, these shows can be perceived as the core founding lineup's last hurrah and are well worth a listen. Marty Balin would soon depart, changing the band's vocal dynamic forever and it would be nearly two decades before Balin, Slick, Kantner, Kaukonen and Casady would all hit the road together again.
Unlike the previous night (also available here in The Concert Vault), where The Airplane stretched out a bit more, this early show from the Tuesday evening performances is a more focused affair, featuring relatively tight versions of most of the songs. That's not to say there isn't any improvisation, because there are several fine examples here, but experimentation is kept to a minimum and the result is a tight set that maintains a strong momentum from beginning to end.
Surprisingly, the set begins with their biggest hit, "Somebody To Love." This contains a relatively brief improvisation when, following the initial verse and chorus, Slick veers off for a minute or so with the band vamping behind her. However, it is most enjoyable when they dive back into the song proper and continue wailing on the original arrangement with Slick and Balin's vocals twisting around each other. The "Crown Of Creation" that follows is a great example of Casady and Covington's chemistry, which drives this performance and brings out the best in the band.
"Mexico," the Grace Slick penned A-side of the group's most recent single turns up next. Written in response to President Nixon's marijuana importation initiative, Operation Intercept, and paying homage to the group's pot dealing and LSD manufacturing friends, this song was certainly doomed from a radio censorship standpoint and was not included on any of their albums (until a rarity collection was later issued). "Mexico" was heard by few outside of concerts at this time and this is as tight and focused a performance as the band likely ever did. Paul Kantner next introduces a new Joey Covington song before Covington navigates the group (on lead vocals as well as drums) into a boogie-style number called "Whatever The Old Man Does (Is Always Right)." Unreleased by the group, this features some fine contributions from Kaukonen and Casady. Covington's vocals were never his strength, but this is one of his more interesting efforts.
The remainder of the set is consistently engaging, beginning with a superlative version of the b-side of the "Mexico" single, "Have You Seen the Saucers?" An excellent new Kantner number, "Saucers" clearly foreshadows the political commentary/science fiction mixture that he would further explore on his debut solo project, Blows Against The Empire. Kaukonen and Casady next lead the fray with a sizzling electrified arrangement of the traditional "Uncle Sam Blues," clearly foreshadowing the sound of electric Hot Tuna in the years to come.
A fine new Marty Balin number surfaces next, in the form of "Emergency." Clearly influenced by the high-energy soul singers of the sixties, this is an interesting performance not only for Balin's vocal, but also for the way the musicians adapt this to their own way of doing things. It also serves as the perfect warm-up exercise for the aggressive take on the old Surrealistic Pillow classic, "3/5 of a Mile In 10 Seconds," which follows. Here everyone is equally engaged, with Slick, Kantner and especially Balin singing forcefully and the musicians packing a serious punch. The set concludes with the two politically charged anthems from their last album, "We Can Be Together" and the title track, "Volunteers, " back to back. This certainly reflects the politically charged climate, with the latter song now containing a rallying cry to the audience to "fight back!"
-Written by Alan Bershaw