Jefferson Airplane: Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/16/66 – Grace’s Debut

Jefferson Airplane takes its first flight with Grace Slick

On the final evening of a three-night stand at the original Fillmore, Jefferson Airplane welcomed their new co-lead singer, Grace Slick. The night before they’d bid farewell to singer Signe Anderson (the late set of which has been released on Signe’s Farewell), and in closing out the weekend they put the band’s most famous lineup in place. The Sunday night set list shared several songs with previous night’s, including a cover of “Tobacco Road” that sounds neither like John Loudermilk’s original nor the Nashville Teen’s 1964 hit single, and the Marty Balin originals “And I Like It” and “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds.” The set added songs from the band’s debut and a few more covers, including a pre-Youngbloods take on “Let’s Get Together” and a roaring guitar-fueled vision of Leiber & Stoller’s “Kansas city.”

Slick provided a striking visual addition to the band, as evidenced by a pair of photographs included on this set’s digipack, but her vocal and writing presence in the band was yet to fully flower. She sounds tentative in harmonizing with Balin, and the signature songs she’d brought with her from the Great Society, “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” either weren’t played or aren’t included in this condensation of the night’s two sets. Slick’s place in the band would solidify quickly as they gigged, recorded Surrealistic Pillow and returned to the Fillmore the following month, as documented on We Have Ignition. This first set feels tentative in contrast to Anderson’s last, though you can feel them getting more comfortable with each song, and particularly when they hit the finale, “It’s No Secret.”

The second set opens slowly, crawling into the slow blues of “Tobacco Road.” Slick sounds almost transformed from the first set, wailing alongside Balin and cutting through with powerful, original vocal lines on “High Flyin’ Bird.” Kaukonen takes to the spotlight on “Kansas City,” singing lead and playing atmospheric blues guitar. His brief solo on “And I Like It” is even more powerful, and a perfect compliment to a searing vocal by Balin. The band stretches out experimentally on the ten-minute “Thing,” including a Jack Casady bass solo, and closes the set with a strong version of the soon-to-be-recorded “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds.” Slick was still singing the band’s set in the shadow of Anderson’s original performances, but the strength of her vocals and the moments of originality on night number one point to the new combination’s rich future.

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 official issue of Grace Slick’s first performances with the band is a most welcome addition, showing off the immediate bond she formed with both her co-vocalists and the instrumental backings. The band’s first great album, Surrealistic Pillow, was just around the corner, and within a matter of weeks they’d return to the Fillmore with Slick firmly established as an equal. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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