Jefferson Airplane’s hi-octane legacy
fuels Paul Kantner’s return to the San
Francisco club scene at the Rrazz Room on January 28.
By Jud Cost
It’s almost come
full-circle. This is the way Jefferson Airplane got its start in 1965, playing
a tiny sit-down San Francisco club called the
Matrix in the Marina,
a place partially owned by founding member and lead-singer Marty Balin. About
twice the size of the Matrix, the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko booked the Paul
Kantner-led Jefferson Starship for a week, just the way the Matrix did with the
Airplane, Big Brother & the Holding Co. and Quicksilver Messenger Service
in the seminal days of the San
Francisco scene. Kantner, it seems, has always felt
comfortable around clubs. He was spotted frequently during the late-’70s heyday
of San Fran’s Mabuhay
Gardens, at shows by
local punks the Avengers and the Nuns.
Kantner, one of
the Airplane’s three principal songwriters and singers along with Balin and
Grace Slick, sits fifteen feet away tonight, looking very relaxed. He’s
bookended by David Freiberg, the bassist/lead singer for Quicksilver while Dino
Valenti was doing jail time. In between the two, singers Cathy Richardson and
Darby Gould admirably carry the female-vocal load this music requires,
surrounded by keyboards, guitar and drums.
It should be
noted that Kantner’s resurrection of the Jefferson Starship franchise has
nothing to do with the Mickey Thomas-led Starship that was the final
permutation of the original, post-Airplane Jefferson Starship. Kantner &
crew do not play ’80s chart-toppers like “We Built This City” and
“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”
going to play some crazy songs tonight,” says Kantner after dusting off
the Airplane’s ace in the hole, “White Rabbit,” early in the set.
Dressed in a Dentyne gum-colored knit frock that looked like a late-’60s Alvin
Duskin creation, something that might have been worn by the fashion-forward
Slick, Gould handles “Rabbit” flawlessly in a style that approaches
but doesn’t mimic Slick. She also excels at “Lather,” a song from the
Airplane’s 1968 Crown Of Creation album that Slick wrote for Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden.
Richardson together handle lead vocals for “Good Shepherd” (“One
for Paul/One for Silas… Oh good shepherd, feed my sheep”) from the
Airplane’s Volunteers album, the last
of their classic longplayers before things started to spin out of control.
Kantner takes a short break, leaving the spotlight for Freiberg’s energetic version of Quicksilver’s
“Fresh Air,” originally sung by Valenti. It would have been nice to
also hear Freiberg
belt out Hamilton Camp’s “Pride Of Man,” one of the highlights from
Quicksilver’s 1967 debut LP.
The next few
numbers are torpedoed visually by the woman seated next to me who decides she
just has to “dance,” moving in a spastic sea anemone way she might
have seen online at vintage Grateful Dead shows. Eventually, she finds a fellow
terpsichorean, and they wobble off together, away from my line-of-sight.
too loud, are we?” asks Kantner. “We don’t want to ruin what’s left
of your hearing.” The only sound problem is a distorted mix of Richardson’s vocals,
something gradually fixed by the sound guy. Everybody’s on their feet for the
double-barreled finale. “Volunteers” has the audience ready to enlist
in the next “Occupy San Francisco” army, even if the demographic of
the crowd tonight might muddy the song’s lyrics: “One generation got
old/One generation got soul.”
The other shoe
finally drops when they conclude an amazing night with the second song (in
addition to “White Rabbit”) that Grace Slick brought with her from
the Great Society when she replaced the Airplane’s original female vocalist,
Signe Anderson, in October of 1966. “Somebody To Love” was penned by
Great Society guitarist Darby Slick, and the Airplane’s red-blooded version
shot straight to the top of the U.S. charts in the spring of 1967, pulled from
their groundbreaking second album, Surrealistic
Pillow. It doesn’t sound quite that good tonight (how could it?). But it’s
great to see Kantner and Freiberg
still playing music that, at one time, looked like it might change the world.