Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jefferson Airplane: "Live At The Fillmore Auditorium 10/16/66" (2010) CD Review

This incredible CD contains Grace Slick's first ever performance with Jefferson Airplane. On October 15, 1966, Signe Anderson did her last show with the band. The very next night Grace Slick had her debut. This CD, whose full title is Live At The Fillmore Auditorium 10/16/66 Early & Late Shows- Grace's Debut, contains both sets. (This CD labels them as "Early" and "Late" shows, but it was all part of one show; thus, no repeated songs.)

Grace Slick is acknowledged as one of rock's greatest female singers. Before joining the Airplane, she had been the lead singer of Great Society, another band of the San Francisco music scene. From that band she brought two songs to Jefferson Airplane ("Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit"). But neither song was played on this first night with the band. However, the songs that were played included some great Jefferson Airplane classics, such as "It's No Secret," "3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds" and "The Other Side Of This Life."

"The Other Side Of This Life"
There is no introduction by Bill Graham this time, as there was at the show the night before. Instead, the "Takes Off" intro is played - a strange rumble, as a jet taking off. And then the band kicks in with "The Other Side Of This Life," Grace's first song ever with the band. And what a performance. She makes her presence felt pretty quickly. "The Other Side Of This Life" was written by Fred Neil.

"Let's Get Together"

"Let's Get Together" is the song written by Chet Powers and most famously covered by The Youngbloods as "Get Together." But actually Jefferson Airplane released a version of this song before The Youngbloods - on their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966). Grace's voice blends so well with Marty's and with Paul's. And when Grace takes lead on certain lines, it's clear the power she brings to the band, and it hints at some of the thrills to come. This is a good version of "Get Together" - somewhat pretty, and never cheesy.

"Don't Let Me Down"

"Don't Let Me Down" features an amazing vocal performance by Marty Balin - loud, raw, emotional - coming blaring over a heavy bluesy rock base. This is what the San Francisco scene was about. Marty pleads, demands, "Don't let me down, no, no, no."

"Run Around" is an interesting tune with a wonderful blend of voices. It seems a bit short though, and could use a bit more jamming.

"It's No Secret"

The band ended their first set that night with "It's No Secret," one of only two songs from their first album to be included in the oddly titled The Worst Of Jefferson Airplane compilation. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "It's no secret/When you got me jumping up and down/It's no secret/Because my heart is chained and bound/I love you, yes I love you."

Grace Slick says, "Thank you" at the end of the song.

"Tobacco Road"

The second set that night did have an introduction: "The last set of a rather wonderful month for everyone - Jefferson Airplane." And then Jefferson Airplane jumped into "Tobacco Road." Jefferson Airplane really makes this song their own. Again, their voices sound incredible together. Listen to Grace Slick wailing approximately three minutes in. Holy moly, folks at this show must have known right then that this band was going places.

"Kansas City"

This is the first version of "Kansas City" to be released on a Jefferson Airplane album. It has certainly been a long time coming. Jorma Kaukonen takes lead on this one. Its a slow, bluesy, mesmerizing rendition of the Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller classic. (The most famous version of this song is probably that by Wilbert Harrison.)

While the beat and the rhythm might be typical blues, the song is anything but typical - it has its own pulse, its own life, like a beast the band is riding but hasn't completely tamed. It's more than seven minutes long, with some great instrumental chunks.

"Bringing Me Down" is another song with power and excellent vocals. This one is wild, but just when the song seems about to venture into crazier territory, it's over. Ah, too soon.

"And I Like It"

"And I Like It" is introduced as "This Is My Life." It begins quiet and slow, sneaking up on the audience. The beginning is actually a beautiful section. And then Marty says, "Listen to Jorma," leading into Jorma Kaukonen's guitar solo. After this, the vocals become louder for a bit, more fierce, before relaxing again.

This is an excellent version of this song, and one of the best tracks on the CD. "And I Like It" was written by Marty Balin and Jorma Kaukonen.

There are more hints of the great things to come when Grace Slick takes her turn at lead vocals on "High Flyin' Bird." Oooo-weee.


The band introduces "Thing" by saying, "This next thing is called 'Thing.'" And "Thing" is an incredible piece of music, a fantastic jam, a creature of vast proportions and strength and potency. This song could impregnate a mountain lion. It's nearly ten minutes long, and there's a bass solo. What more can be said? It's amazing.

The band closed their second set that night with an incredible version of "3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds," a song written by Marty Balin. Grace Slick must have made an impression on the folks that caught this show. And on the band. This was the second beginning of an important San Francisco band, and the seeds of greatness can be clearly heard on this recording.

CD Track List
  1. The Other Side Of This Life
  2. Let's Get Together
  3. Let Me In
  4. Don't Let Me Down
  5. Run Around
  6. It's No Secret
  7. Tobacco Road
  8. Kansas City
  9. Bringing Me Down
  10. And I Like It
  11. High Flyin' Bird
  12. Thing
  13. 3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds

Jefferson Airplane at the time of this recording was Grace Slick on vocals, Marty Balin on vocals, Paul Kantner on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jorma Kaukonen on lead guitar and vocals, Jack Casady on bass and Spencer Dryden on drums.

Collectors' Choice Music is doing music lovers an incredible service by releasing four CDs of early live Jefferson Airplane recordings. In addition to this CD, they are releasing Live At The Fillmore Auditorium 10/15/66 Late Show - Signe's Farewell, Live At The Fillmore Auditorium 11/25/66 & 11/27/66 - We Have Ignition and Return To The Matrix 02/01/68. All four CDs are scheduled to be released October 26, 2010.

(Note: I originally posted this review on September 21, 2010 on another site.)

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