Grace Slick - vocals, organ; Marty Balin - vocals, percussion, bass; Paul Kantner - vocals, guitar; Jorma Kaukonen - lead guitar; Jack Casady - bass, rhythm guitar; Spencer Dryden - drums
1967 was a whirlwind year for Jefferson Airplane. "Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit" were monumental hits and the Surrealistic Pillow album had penetrated way beyond San Francisco, earning the band a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. Grace Slick was becoming an icon in the media and the band was a staple of the rock press, especially Rolling Stone, which launched that Fall. This first taste of substantial success and the heavily experimental culture blossoming all around them had a profound effect on the band's music. They now had the power to demand complete artistic control and this freedom naturally led to self indulgence, but in the Airplane's case, with quite enticing results.
The folk- and blues-rooted music that launched the band's career, and the vocal harmony style so prominent on Takes Off and Surrealistic Pillow, were rapidly transforming into something far more original. The instrumentation had become heavier, darker and far more adventurous. Marty Balin, Grace Slick, and Paul Kantner, the primary vocalists in the group were still quite capable of beautifully distinctive harmonies, but they were now developing a new vocal style, in which Slick and Balin would more often sing complimentary counterpoint parts that made the music more original and compelling.
By early 1968, the Airplane's creativity was near its peak and the diverse writing factions within the band were actively engaged in each others' material with an enthusiasm that would slowly disintegrate over the next few years. This performance, recorded at the Matrix (a former pizza restaurant that singer Marty Balin co-started to launch the band locally) captures the band in an intimate setting performing before a hometown audience of friends and family. Not only are the band members at their most relaxed and comfortable, but they also perform a stellar selection of material, including much of the Baxters album when it was fresh and most exciting. They also treat the audience to a preview of material they were working on and a few rarely performed gems from their earlier repertoire.
They kick it off with an engaging take on "Somebody To Love," their big hit from 1967. One can immediately hear the changes that have occurred in just a year's time. The tempo is more relaxed, the instrumentation more aggressive, and Grace Slick has begun improvising on her vocals. This is followed by a lovely vocal from Balin on "Young Girl Sunday Blues" before they launch into a rip-roaring rendition of Jorma Kaukonen's "She Has Funny Cars."
Next up are two more fresh Baxter's tracks, the rarely performed Grace Slick gem, "Two Heads" and a beautifully dreamy version of Paul Kantner's "Martha." The next three songs dip back into the band's repertoire. First Kaukonen and Cassady take over for a very Hot Tuna-esque romp through "Kansas City," letting Jorma flex his utterly unique blues chops. A charging cover of Fred Neil's "Other Side Of This Life" follows before they deliver a gorgeous version of the delicate "Today," from Surrealistic Pillow. One of the biggest surprises on this performance occurs between the Baxter's tracks "Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon," the band's homage to the Summer Of Love events in Golden Gate Park, and "Watch Her Ride." It is between these that the band dip back the farthest, first with an updated rendition of the first album track, "It's No Secret," and then with the darker and mysterious "Blues From An Airplane." The latter song is not known to have ever been performed elsewhere before or since.
Three Surrealistic Pillow classics are next performed in succession, "Plastic Fantastic Lover," "White Rabbit," and "3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds." All three are delightful, with strong vocals and impressive instrumental performances that are a bit edgier now, a la the Baxter's material. However, the true highlights are the remainder of the set. First Marty Balin treats the audience to a preview of "Share A Little Joke," a lovely new composition destined for the next album. Jorma does likewise by launching the band into an embryonic jam on what would later become the Crown Of Creation track, "Ice Cream Phoenix." The lyrics were still yet to be written at this point, a fact Kantner jokingly mentions by inviting the audience to sing along if they have any words. This is a great psychedelic excursion that veers off into pure improvisation with inspired results. Unfortunately incomplete due to a tape change, the nearly 11 minutes that remain are a feast for Kaukonen and Casady fans.
They begin winding things up with Donovan's "Fat Angel," now transformed into a raga-fied journey into deep space featuring Casady playing rhythm guitar and Balin on bass, before they conclude with a powerful performance of "Ballad Of You, Me & Pooneil." This also gets the extended improvisational treatment and features a ferocious bass solo by Jack. It is this last sequence of songs that perhaps best points in the direction they were going. The Airplane's music was now not only being created to enhance the psychedelic experience, but had become a truly psychedelic experience in itself.
Written by Alan Bershaw