John Kay - guitar, vocals, harmonica
Michael Monarch - lead guitar
Rushton Moreve - bass
Goldy McJohn - keyboards
Jerry Edmonton - drums
Steppenwolf headlined the Fillmore West on this night, with an early, pre-signed incarnation of Santana opening, followed by The Staple Singers. This performance captures Steppenwolf at a pivotal time, early in their career, as the band was experiencing their first tastes of commercial success from the single off their debut album: the blazing biker anthem "Born To Be Wild." They had recorded but not yet released their second album (which contained the single "Magic Carpet Ride"), and were beginning to perform the more adventurous and experimental material to be included on that album, in addition to staples from their debut LP.
Following the introduction, the set begins with a highly expanded version of "Your Wall's Too High," a popular track from their first album. John Kay then proceeds to speak to the audience about the band's experiences traveling through the United States; the monologue is evocative, and speaks volumes about the social and political climate of the times. Fans of the pre-Steppenwolf blues band the Sparrow, who were transplants from Toronto but became popular during the early Bay Area music scene, are catered to with the cover "Hoochie Coochie Man." A strong supporter of his former bandmates, Kay clues the audience in to the other Sparrow members' current situations following the tune. This open-minded attitude would foster many great collaborations a few years later, when many of the San Francisco bands were dissolving.
Next up is the classic "Born To Be Wild," here expanded to over twice its original length, giving the group another chance to jam a bit before they slow things down with the introspective "Desperation." They continue with another Sparrow-era song that closed the first Steppenwolf LP, "The Ostrich," featuring lyrics with political commentary, a common thread that would continue in Steppenwolf's future material. Next up is "Tighten Up Your Wig," a song that is essentially Junior Wells' "Messin' With The Kid," with new lyrics by Kay.
At this point the audience is treated to a four song sequence from the group's yet to be released second album. This is quite interesting as it shows the group becoming more adventurous with their music, and like many bands in 1968, beginning to think of albums as a whole, rather than a collection of single songs. They close the set by going back to their blues roots with "Baby Please Don't Go," another song often played by the Sparrow and used as a vehicle for jamming. This leaves the audience demanding more and the band obliges with a cover of Hoyt Axton's anti-hard drug song, "The Pusher," to end the night.
In 1968 Steppenwolf had an undeniable flair for creating music that was heavier than the usual AM radio fare, yet transcended those limitations and became hugely popular in both AM and FM radio formats. They were highly original and were one of the pioneers of the "hard rock" that would eventually be known as "heavy metal" - a term, in fact, that was coined directly from the "heavy metal thunder" phrase in the lyrics to "Born To Be Wild."
Indeed, a thunderous set from an accomplished, influential group.