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Grace Slick's debut concert with Jefferson Airplane, 1966.

Music Review: Jefferson Airplane – Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/16/66 (Early & Late Shows – Grace’s Debut)

On October 15, 1966 when Jefferson Airplane took the stage of the Fillmore Auditorium, the band’s female singer was Signe Anderson. On October 16, 1966, when the band took the stage for the first of two concerts that night, the female singer was Grace Slick, and a new era was beginning.

The band had signed a contract and had already put out an album, but the real success was still to come in the future. After all it was Slick who brought the songs—”White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”—that were to define the band for rock fans through her time with them, and continuing through today. The concert of the sixteenth, then, is something of a landmark in the history of rock music, and fortunately for us, a live album of the event will be available in October from Collector’s Choice Music Live.

Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/16/66 (Early & Late Shows — Grace’s Debut) is one of four live albums to be released next month. Signe’s final show with the group — Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/15/66 (Signe’s Farewell) — will also be available. These are both single discs. There are two double disc albums as well: Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 11/25/66 & 11/27/66 (We Have Ignition) and Return to the Matrix 2/1/68. Together the albums give the listener a nice insight into the band’s artistic growth and development as well as the new energy Slick brought to the mix.

In the first show on the album, Slick, still getting used to singing with her new band mates, tried to work with Anderson’s harmonies to simplify the overnight transition. Anderson, according to the album notes, had left the band “for the stability of family life,” and Slick who had been singing with her own band, The Great Society, was open to a change.

Although no mention is made of rehearsal time prior to the concert, Anderson’s departure was not a spur of the moment decision; certainly there must have been some time for rehearsal before this first public performance. Because Slick’s band had appeared on shows with Jefferson Airplane, she must have had a good understanding of their music. To make it seem as if Anderson left and Slick just stepped right in cold seems to be an unlikely scenario. The fact that they work so well together right from the beginning would seem to argue for at least some opportunity to rehearse.

The first set opens with “The Other Side of This life” in a six and a half minute romp that begins with some nice guitar work that morphs into a duet where the strength of Slick’s vocals soars with the band. “Let’s Get Together” comes next, and again shows both the powerful note of passion in Slick’s voice as well as her ability to blend harmonically. The bluesy “Don’t Let Me Down” features Marty Balin singing with down home grit. The hard driving “It’s No Secret,” which follows a somewhat subdued “Run Around” ends the set.

John Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road” starts the late show and gives the band’s new addition an opportunity to show her chops with some really powerful vocal lines. Jorma Kaukonen plays some mean blues guitar along with the vocals on almost seven and a half minutes worth of “Kansas City.”

“Bringing Me Down” pairs Balin and Slick in a symbiotic blend that ends on a downer. Kaukonen has soft blues guitar solo between Balin’s vocals in “And I Like It.” “High Flyin’ Bird” has a solo section for Slick which forecasts some of the trembling vocal passion that marked her later work. A ten minute version of the instrumental “Thing” follows, and “3/5 Of A Mile in 10 Seconds” ends the set with vocals for Balin, Kantner and Slick.”

Like many live concerts from this period, the sound isn’t always up to the recording standards we are used to today. Sometimes it seems reminiscent of some of those old Grateful Dead bootlegs, the better ones that circulated after all their concerts. Still if the sound isn’t state of the art, it is nonetheless quite adequate.

The concerts on this album are clearly harbingers of the future success of the band, but they have more to offer than the kind of historical interest that says let’s listen to what Jefferson Airplane sounded like before they were “Jefferson Airplane.” These songs rock in their own right. They justify themselves. Had there been no Surrealistic Pillow, this is still a live album that deserves attention. That there has been, makes it that much more relevant.

About Jack Goodstein

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