Jefferson Airplane: Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/15/66 – Signe’s Farewell

Jefferson Airplane takes its last flight with Signe Anderson

By October of 1966 the Jefferson Airplane had been together for a little over a year and had released their debut album, Takes Off. They had already become a finely-tuned live unit, and the key elements of their San Francisco Sound were almost all in place. What was yet to be added was the dynamic personality and vocals of Grace Slick, who would join the day after this live set bid farewell to the band’s original female vocalist, Signe Anderson. Anderson was officially a co-lead singer with Marty Balin, but as the band’s subsequent albums would show, she didn’t achieve the parity with Balin that Grace Slick would accomplish. It wasn’t for a lack of talent though, as her harmonizing with Balin and her lead vocal on “Chauffeur Blues” show just why she was invited to join the band in the first place.

This twelve-track set presents the late show from Bill Graham’s original Fillmore Auditorium, recorded on a night that many knew was Anderson’s last. Balin says farewell as he introduces Anderson for her signature song, and the album closes with Bill Graham and the crowd giving Anderson a last round of applause before she says goodbye. The group sent her out with a powerful set that mixes covers (“Tobacco Road,” “Fat Angel,” “Midnight Hour” and “High Flyin’ Bird”), originals from their debut (“Runnin’ ‘Round This World,” “Come Up the Years” and “And I Like It”), and originals that were yet to be recorded in the studio (“3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and “Go to Her”). The set shows how easily the band moved back and forth between the concise arrangements of their debut album and the lengthy jams that defined the San Francisco ballroom scene.

Opening with the 9-minute improvisational “Jam,” the live Airplane immediately proved themselves a different band than the one who’d dropped their debut album two months earlier. The folk roots of their first studio work were replaced on stage by harder electric psychedelia, evident in their conversion of “High Flyin’ Bird” from sultry folk-rock to an electric blues-rock wail. The addition of Grace Slick the following night (and the material she’d bring from the Great Society) would further change the band, but you can already hear the evolution in progress here, particularly in the freedom of Balin’s vocals and the instrumental explorations of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady. Collectors’ Choice documents the band’s full transition with the following night’s set (Grace’s Debut) and a set recorded six weeks later (We Have Ignition), right after the band had waxed Surrealistic Pillow.

Airplane fans haven’t ever really been wanting for live material, with Bless Its Pointed Little Head and Thirty Seconds Over Winterland released during the years of the group’s ascension, and archival recordings Sweeping up the Spotlight Live at the Fillmore East, At Golden Gate Park, Last Flight released over the past few years, and numerous bootlegs circulating among collectors. But this first official issue of a pre-Grace Slick live recording is a welcome addition to the catalog, documenting the Airplane’s initial formation, showing Signe Anderson to be a terrific foil for Marty Balin (her background wails on “Tobacco Road” truly elevate the performance), and proving the band’s San Francisco sound – missing from their debut album – was firmly entrenched in their live performances early on. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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