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Music Review: Jefferson Airplane – Live At The Fillmore Auditorium 11/25/66 & 11/27/66: We Have Ignition

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Back in the dark ages – the early 1970s when disco ruled the airwaves and before punk reminded us that rock and roll should make the establishment nervous not be part of it – I was your typical lost teenager looking for direction. As the present looked so dismal and I was lousy at looking into the future, the only viable alternative seemed to involve looking backwards for guidance. Reading about the previous decade with its protests against the war in Vietnam, the fight for Civil Rights and the music that accompanied it all made the 1960s seem a far more exciting time to be alive then the decade I was living through.

Needless to say the reality was lot different than any romantic notions my teenage self might have had. For while the lofty ideals of people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were indeed worthy of being kept alive and venerated, a great deal of what I was first attracted to didn’t bear up well under close scrutiny. Mind expanding drug trips could just as easily be heroin addiction and overdoses, the sexual revolution was just another excuse for men to exploit women and a great deal of the music was as manipulative and corporate as what was being put out in my own era. The more music I listened to the more I began to appreciate how the era’s reputation for being a golden age of popular music was based on the achievements of a few gifted people and what I can only assume was a diminished capacity for critical evaluation caused by drug use.

However, while there were many groups which disappointed, one who lived up to their press clippings and whose reputation wasn’t based on hazy memories was Jefferson Airplane. While psychedelic bands were just about as common as weeds in the Airplane’s home town of San Francisco in the 1960s they stood out from the pack. Not only were they musically versatile, equally capable of burning the house down with acid rock as they were playing traditional blues numbers and ballads, what really caught my attention was the interplay of voices between their three main vocalists; Marty Balin, Grace Slick, and Paul Kantner.

While Slick would swoop in and around her male counterparts like a circling bird of prey, it was when she stepped up to the microphone for her leads the true scope of her talent was revealed. It wasn’t just that she was powerful, anybody can be loud, it was her ability to modulate her voice to suit the requirements of the material that was so impressive. Whether it was her in your face demanding of her audience whether they wanted somebody to love or not on “Somebody To Love” or the harmonies she wove with Balin and Kantner that could take you to a place few other female rock vocalists had even attempted before her, she was far different from any other female vocalist I had ever heard.

Yet Slick hadn’t been there when the Airplane first took flight, not joining the band until the fall of 1966. Around a month after she joined, while they were still recording Surrealistic Pillow, the band introduced Slick to their audience over the course of two concerts at the end of November that year. Live At The Fillmore Auditorium 11/25/66 & 11/27/66: We Have Ignition, being released on November 9/11 by Collectors Choice Music, brings those two concerts to CD for the first time and gives listeners a glimpse of what was to come with Slick as a member of the band. The concerts were a mix of tunes taken from the soon to be released Surrealistic Pillow, covers and songs either from their first album or that would end up on other albums further down the road.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • JC Mosquito

    Well, I’m interested – I always thought most Jefferson Airplane albums had moments of brilliance, but their lack of consistency meant they always fell just short of reaching classic status. Maybe this will finally be the one.