Grace Slick - vocals, organ; Marty Balin - vocals, percussion; Paul Kantner - vocals, guitar; Jorma Kaukonen - lead guitar; Jack Casady - bass; Spencer Dryden - drums
The three-day run at Fillmore Auditorium toward the end of November 1966 is one of the most fascinating collections of early live Jefferson Airplane recordings for a number of reasons. The five shows that occurred during this run, on a bill that also featured the James Cotton Blues Band and Moby Grape, capture Jefferson Airplane literally days after completing most of the sessions for their breakthrough album, Surrealistic Pillow. Grace Slick had recently replaced Signe Anderson as the female voice of the band. That transition, as well as a wealth of magnificent new material, was about to transform the band into the leading light of the San Francisco music scene. While the Airplane are still relying on first album material when performing, now the Surrealistic Pillow material is beginning to dominate their sets. It is quite remarkable to hear such classic songs when they were so fresh and new. Since the band had spent much of the recent weeks recording in Los Angeles, the new material is performed with a near perfect tightness on the vocal arrangements that would rarely ever be surpassed. The musicians in the band are reaching a new peak of creativity here and these recordings capture them at an incredibly inspired moment in time. Upon its release, Surrealistic Pillow would soon gain Jefferson Airplane, as well as the San Francisco cultural scene, national attention. This run of shows truly marks the beginning of the classic Jefferson Airplane sound. Within the next few months, the band would be gaining international attention, experiencing many new pressures and they would soon begin splintering into factions. For a brief time, clearly captured on the recordings during this run, Jefferson Airplane's music was truly a group effort and almost perfectly balanced.
This early show on the second night of this run begins exactly like the Surrealistic Pillow album itself, with "She Has Funny Cars," a classic new number played with great enthusiasm. The next four songs dip back to the debut album, with "High Flying Bird," "Let Me In," "Run Around" and "It's No Secret." Although these four songs had been performed for some time, they too have a new energy about them, sounding less folky and significantly more psychedelic than performances just a month or two prior.
Marty and Grace step back for Jorma Kaukonen's showcase spot in the set, "In The Morning." Recorded during the Surrealistic Pillow sessions as a jam that featured both Jorma and Jerry Garcia trading lead guitar licks, this song wouldn't see the light of day until the Early Flight compilation was released in the 1970s. This song clearly represents the bluesy direction Jorma and Jack would be heading years later with Hot Tuna and it is another thoroughly engaging performance.
This all leads up to a powerful trifecta of Surrealistic Pillow songs to close the set. "My Best Friend," is an absolutely beautiful performance, very much like the version on the album, featuring the unique vocal blend of Marty, Paul, and Grace. Written by Skip Spence, the band's original drummer and founding member of Moby Grape, this song clearly indicates that something very special is happening here. The "Somebody To Love" that follows is nearly letter perfect, with all the tightness and power of the fresh new Surrealistic Pillow arrangement, with the unique instrumental approach of Jorma, Jack and Spencer becoming more distinctive than ever. Little did they know just how significant this song would become at the time. The set concludes with one of the earliest live performances of "Plastic Fantastic Lover," a Marty Balin tour-de-force that clearly displays this phase of the group at its most powerful.
Written by Alan Bershaw
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