Jefferson Airplane was a vital part of that great mid-1960s music scene in San Francisco, a scene that included the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother. Those bands often played at Golden Gate Park, usually for free, and in other parks around the country. The name change from Jefferson Airplane to Jefferson Starship (along with some personnel changes) did not mean an end to those concerts in the park.
On May 12, 1975, Jefferson Starship did a free show in Central Park in New York. Live In Central Park NYC May 12, 1975, the new two-disc set, captures that show in all its loud and wild glory. This band, though its name had changed, was still going very strong at this point. In fact, this was the same year they released that excellent album Red Octopus.
I love that this set includes the stage banter and tuning between songs. At the beginning of the first track, Grace Slick asks, “Can you hear back there?” And they kick in with a high-energy, deliciously loud and pounding version of “Ride The Tiger,” from Jefferson Starship’s first album, Dragon Fly (1974). Check out that great guitar work.
There’s some more stage banter at the beginning of the second track, including a warning to the folks in the trees. They then go into “Fast Buck Freddie,” from Red Octopus (an album that was released soon after this concert). And Grace belts out the lyrics, rising to some heights.
Marty Balin’s “The Witcher” has an intense, joyous sound. This is a band that was having fun. “Oh baby, I’ve been tattooed on you.”
More stage announcements begin the fourth track, again asking the folks to get out of the trees, and introducing Papa John Creach on violin. This is a nice, meaty version of “Devil’s Den,” with a wild bass solo. The first disc ends with “Papa John’s Down Home Blues,” a song written by Papa John Creach and featuring some wonderful stuff by him on violin. This is glorious blues rock.
The second disc opens with “Play On Love,” the song which opens side two of 1975’s Red Octopus. It’s kind of a sweet pop tune. Grace Slick then gets all bluesy with the piano-driven “Better Lying Down,” a song featured on her solo album, Manhole. Grace sings, “Go ahead and go down on somebody now/Go down on your neighbor/Go down on your friends/Go down on your relatives/No, don’t go down on your relatives.” That’s Pete Sears on piano. He also co-wrote this tune.
Before “Come To Life,” Grace Slick says they need to tune. Then: “It doesn’t make much difference, but we do it anyway.” I love that. “Come To Life” was co-written by Robert Hunter, one of the two chief lyricists for the Grateful Dead.
They do a few classic Airplane tunes, including “White Rabbit,” which has a great extended instrumental intro. The longest and craziest jam of the show, however, is “Sweeter Than Honey,” a tune from Red Octopus. It includes a manic drum solo.
They end the set with two classic Airplane songs – “Somebody To Love” and “Volunteers.” They stretch out a bit on these tunes, jamming on “Somebody To Love.” “Volunteers” was always one of my favorites, and this rendition has the right amount of energy. It’s also helped by Papa John’s presence on violin. The last several seconds of the song are from an inferior sound source, which is a shame. But it’s great to have this show at all.
CD Track List
- Intro/Ride The Tiger
- Stage Announcements/Fast Buck Freddie
- The Witcher
- Stage Announcements/Devil’s Den
- Drivin’ Me Crazy
- Papa John’s Down Home Blues
- Play On Love
- Better Lying Down
- Have You Seen The Saucers
- Come To Life
- White Rabbit
- Stage Announcements
- Sweeter Than Honey
- Somebody To Love
Jefferson Starship at the time of this concert was Marty Balin, John Barbata, Craig Chaquico, Papa John Creach, David Freiberg, Paul Kantner, Pete Sears and Grace Slick.
Live In Central Park NYC May 12, 1975 was released on September 3, 2013 through Real Gone Music.