Dino Valenti - guitar, flute, congas, vocals; John Cipollina - guitar; Gary Duncan - bass, guitar, vocals; David Frieberg - keyboards; Mark Ryan - bass; Greg Elmore - drums; Harold Aceves - drums
Headlining a bill that featured Sons Of Champlin and John Cipollina's band, Copperhead, this Quicksilver Messenger Service recording proves that even at the tail end of their years on Capitol Records, this was a band that was far more compelling onstage than they ever were in the studio. Few QMS live recordings are known to exist from the 1972-'73 era and this one, recorded in December of '73, captures the band just before they initially split up. By the early 1970s, Dino Valenti was essentially the bandleader and was providing the vast majority of their material. However, on this performance, the original members, Gary Duncan, John Cipollina, David Frieberg and Greg Elmore are all on board, maintaining a strong link to their past. The core band is augmented by a second drummer and a percussionist. Mark Ryan takes the bass responsibilities, allowing Frieberg to concentrate on piano and keyboards. Although Gary Duncan was often ill during this era, his distinctive guitar playing is often full of fire and John Cipollina is also in fine form. On many of these songs, they bring an improvisational approach to the instrumental sections that are quite captivating, lending a balance to the groups more song oriented sound. The band still has plenty of creativity here and this set is remarkable and surprising in a number of ways.
The first surprise is the opening number, where they apply a prototype Quicksilver-style arrangement to "Losing Hand," a piano based blues written by Ray Charles. Never recorded by the band, this rarity is a very impressive performance that finds a nice balance between the raw aggressive feel of Happy Trails era material and the more polished rock oriented sound of the later albums. Another rarely performed tune, "Play My Guitar," a song from the 1971 Quicksilver LP follows, featuring trademark psychedelic guitar from Duncan and Cipollina that smokes the studio version. At this point, everyone is fully warmed up, so they sink their teeth into "Mojo," the strongest rocker on the band's final Capitol album, Comin' Thru. The sparks fly as they burn through this number for nearly 10 minutes, allowing Duncan and Cipollina to fully flex their impressive guitar chops. They may have been nearing the end, but onstage Quicksilver still had tremendous energy.
To close the set, they deliver a nearly 40 minute continuous sequence that begins by coupling one of their most beloved songs, "What About Me" with an intriguing take on the Just For Love album track, "The Hat." The crowd roars its approval in all the obvious places during "What About Me," which features plenty of Valenti's penetrating vocals. Midway through its dreamy flow, the band drops way down while Valenti improvises. Although no recordings have ever surfaced of Valenti's early years on the folk circuit, this little sequence gives one a fleeting glimpse of his root sound and style. Eventually the group transitions into "The Hat" - 10 delightful minutes revolving around a relaxed infectious groove. They might not be recognized for it, but this same groove and nearly identical guitar riffs fueled several mid-'70s hits by other artists. Just when one expects them to end this remarkable sequence, Duncan starts veering off, with the rest of the group following his lead. As they continue the familiar sound of "Who Do You Love" emerges and they are suddenly blazing into a ferocious jam.
After several minutes, Duncan takes the lead vocal and it sounds as if we have journeyed back to 1968. With two drummers, as well as a percussionist, the rhythm section provides a strong foundation so that Duncan and Cipollina can cut loose. And cut loose they do with blazing guitar solos and plenty of improvising for the next 5 or 6 minutes. This is a cosmic performance in every sense of the word, with blazing guitar solos and a pummeling rhythm that must have convinced any doubters that this band could still pull it off.
Following this initial onslaught, the band heads into a spacey vamp with the guitarists adding creepy processed guitar effects, which build into a barrage of controlled noise, before unexpectedly, they stop! However, they are not finished and begin slowly building back up. Right before the 15-minute mark, they rip back into "Who Do You Love" proper, still blazing with energy. They are playing so furiously, that Duncan forgoes singing on the reprise and instead lets the guitars do all the talking, before bringing the night to a close with a big crescendo-style ending. It's a remarkable performance that shows this final incarnation of the original group in a most positive light.