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Sweeping Up the Spotlight: Jefferson Airplane Live at the Fillmore East 1969 – Jefferson Airplane

RCA/Legacy 82876 81558 2
If perception isnt everything, it sure manhandles truth on too many occasions. I bring this up as Im listening to Sweeping Up the Spotlight: Jefferson Airplane Live at the Fillmore East 1969 because of the perception created around the San Francisco act thanks, to a large degree, by radio. The succinct band bio goes something like this successful psychedelic rock act with two major hits, White Rabbit and Somebody to Love. The rest of the group personality vanishes. Im as guilty of this as you probably are. (Only a college class on rock n roll, which analyzed After Bathing at Baxters and a rare spin of Volunteers turned my head to a more expansive recognition of what went into the Airplanes musical recipe.) And even with that Live at the Fillmore East freshens my perspective of the powers the band possessed.

Sure, the hit is represented (White Rabbit), but you get a more rounded sense of the power and the passion whipped up by the sextet on a concert stage. Theres Jorma Kaukonens cosmic blues on Good Shepherd and Uncle Sam Blues as well as the propulsive quality running through Plastic Fantastic Lover and the aptly named 3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds. One might be used to what Jack Casady does, thanks to his work in Hot Tuna, but teamed with drummer Spencer Dryden, he witnesses a different kind of animal, even to the extent that a drum/bass solo on The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil seems just right. And as enjoyable as Kaukonens acoustic and blues playing has been in Hot Tuna, its a pleasure to hear the guitarist tear it up throughout this set as Paul Kantner supports him in a world of rhythm and riffs. The vocal entanglements of Marty Balin and Grace Slick ebb and flow while maintaining their presence as one part of the overall hydra of sound.

Full of post-Woodstock radiance, youth culture bluster, and pre-Altamont downer, Live at the Fillmore East 1969 pieces together 12 performances from Nov. 28 and 29 on to one disc. Fittingly, Volunteers begins the set, slightly ragged as it races by, but all the more potent in its setting of social upheaval and a new generation making its presence felt throughout the world.

At times, one is reminded that the members of the Airplane took their citizenship among the Summer of Loves inhabitants very seriously, making some of the materials hip quotient seem hermetically sealed in a time capsule — a mention of acid incense during Saturday Afternoon or the line Let me sock it to you, rock it to you one more time… on You Wear Your Dresses Too Short. But, in both cases, the playing props up the song with enough muscle (major thanks Jorma!) to cause only slight wincing. Lyrical flourishes like that are a reminder that yes, this is a sentimental journey, a soundtrack suitable for an audience trippin balls, but, more importantly, theres a potency to what the Jefferson Airplane produced as a unit. And thats what made the band, and this disc, memorable.

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