[amtap amazon:asin=B003ZXQVNO] In our increasingly musically illiterate age, even foundational pioneers are often lost in time; an oft-repeated name and a few songs serving as their soundbite in our information overload lives. It’s a pity because there are rich, original delights to be had by revisiting rock’s ground zero years, particularly the almost too packed mid-to-late 1960s. Case in point, a new quartet of pulsating, utterly switch-on vintage live recordings from San Francisco’s Jefferson Airplane. Four previously unreleased performances from the band’s most evolutionary period is a treasure trove to be devoutly wished and further mythology for the Airplane’s place in the SF Flower Power pantheon. The artsy, go-go booted compatriots to shaggy provocateurs Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane emerged with an inborn gravitas and overtly theatrical demeanor. The weight of being young in turbulent times was not lost on Marty Balin (lead vocals), Paul Kantner (rhythm guitar, vocals), Jack Casady (bass), Spencer Dryden (drums), Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitar) and original singer Signe Anderson, whose sparkling farewell performance is the first in this new archival series.
Live At The Fillmore Auditorium – 10/15/66 – Late Show – Signe’s Farewell (arriving November 23) makes a strong case for the Airplane’s contribution to exploratory, highly engaged rock. Molding folk forms and blues grit together with a heavy, romantic aura and sativa accented inquisitiveness, the early Jefferson Airplane – as evidenced by this set – were already a genuine experience live. While many other contemporaries were tackling tunes like High Flyin’ Bird and Tobacco Road, they weren’t doing so with Jorma’s mercurial guitar or the searing, emotive delivery of the Broadway-esque Balin – a man overwrought in the best of ways here. Everywhere one picks up on young musicians really hungry to take their music into interesting spaces, tossing aside convention in favor of freedom and feeling. While still vaguely psychedelic in patches, Signe’s Farewell, the Airplane, only about a year old at this point, is a good deal less messy or muddled than most of their SF rock kin, and it’s fun to hear them balance their adventurous spirit with growing group discipline.
Signe Anderson was a fine foil for Balin and a decent lead singer in her own right – she’s especially grounded and earthy on the earthy Chauffeur Blues here – but she’s nowhere near the powerhouse that entering female lead Grace Slick would swiftly become. Balin is such a powerful, broad vocalist that Jefferson Airplane needed another alpha-singer to balance him out. They found that in Slick, but this snapshot of the Airplane’s first incarnation is not only fascinating, it’s a very enjoyable ticket to one of the most energized, forward charging 60s bands in their early bloom.
Dirty Impound will explore the rest of these newly available Jefferson Airplane live sets throughout November