Jefferson Airplane: Return to the Matrix 02/01/68

Jefferson Airplane flies high

In contrast to the three 1966 releases in this collection (Signe’s Farewell, Grace’s Debut and We Have Ignition), this 1968 set finds the Airplane a great deal farther along. By 1968 the classic six-piece Airplane formation had released Surrealistic Pillow and After Bathing at Baxters in 1967, and were about to embark on recording Crown of Creation. Their performance includes tracks from all three of their released albums (including “It’s No Secret” and a rare performance of “Blues from an Airplane” from Takes Off), a pair of tracks from the upcoming sessions (“Share a Little Joke” and “Ice Cream Phoenix,” the latter still a jam at this point, and each their only known live performance), two covers that had long been in their live set (Fred Neil’s “The Other Side of Life” and Donovan’s “Fat Angel”), and their last known live performance of Leiber & Stoller “Kansas City,” turned into a superb blues jam by Jorma Kaukonen.

The show was something of a homecoming as the Airplane returned to the club where they’d debuted (albeit with a somewhat different lineup) in 1965. By this point the group was internationally famous, with two albums that had cracked the Top 10 and two hit singles, each of of which are played here. They’d become international representatives of the San Francisco scene. The band remained remarkably fresh, even on material that had been in their set for years. Marty Balin sings a wonderfully emotional version of “Today,” the band plays an energetic version of “The Other Side of Life,” and the groove running through “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” pushes the vocalists to terrific heights. The latter is propelled by Jack Casady’s imaginative bass line, and features terrific 12-string figures and a blistering solo. Slick’s show piece, “White Rabbit,” is more fully formed on stage than it as two years earlier, and “Plastic Fanstastic Lover” has a memorable terrific guitar opening.

The chemistry between Balin and Slick, evident immediately in the weeks after she joined the band, is even stronger here, with Slick adding terrific wails behind Balin on his signature “It’s No Secret.” The newer material offers fertile territory for exploration on stage, particularly the multi-part “Won’t You Try / Saturday Afternoon.” Though the tapes are mono, the instruments are more prominent than in the recordings used for We Have Ignition. There’s some tape hiss, the sound system occasionally evidences a buzz, the rhythm guitar is mixed too hot in a few spots, and the vocals can get a bit edgy, but overall this is a dynamic recording of a key performance in the Airplane’s flight. The set closes with a mesmerizing 10-minute version of “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil,” complete with a raging guitar solo that briefly quotes “Spoonful.”

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. This 1968 performance shows just how well the Airplane had matured with Slick on board, particularly as live performers. Their catalog of original material had grown deeper, and the freedom they found on stage set the stage for their triumphant performance the following year at Woodstock. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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