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Published: 2009/01/14
by Brian Robbins

Live at the Fillmore Auditorium, Live at the Avalon Ballroom (v. 1 & 2) – Quicksilver Messenger Service

Bear Records

First of all, a couple of things need to be said.

It would just be wrong – and potentially evil – not to acknowledge the importance of Quicksilver Messenger Service when it comes to the San Franciscan roots of jamband music. Core QMS members included guitarist/vocalist Gary Duncan, bass player David Frieberg, vocalists Jim Murray and (when not in jail) Dino Valenti, and drummer Greg Elmore. And then there was guitarist John Cippolina. Oh, yes. Dig out your copy of the Grateful Dead's Closing Of Winterland and wait for the moment when Cippolina joins the boys on stage. (Don’t check the liner notes – you’ll know.) Go ask Steve Kimock about John Cippolina — in Mr. K’s own words: "John’s gift of music and his extraordinary soulfulness as a person are an inspiration to me every day. I named my first born after him." Jerry Garcia loved him. The master of mind-blowing-Link-Wray-grunge-acid-soaked-quasi-flamenco-heartbreakingly-beautiful guitar, Cippolina left this world in 1989 and there’ll never be another one like him. ‘Nuff said.

And, speaking of the Grateful Dead, not everyone had sound wizards like Owsley Stanley or Dan Healy managing the mixing and recording in the late '60s. Just remember that.

So, acknowledging the above, here we go: the recently-unearthed archival releases from Quicksilver Messenger Service may be of more interest to completists than the casual fan. These are definitely warts-and-all shows. In fact, these are, at times, warts, carbuncles, ingrown nose hairs, and weird-red-swelling-under-your-right-armpit shows. Not that there's anything wrong with that: you're right there, smelling that weird ready-to-melt tube amp smell and hearing that nasty, crackly hum whose source nobody can figure out. The music takes a licking, though—the best moments sound-wise are comparable to a decent audience tape from that period—and it goes downhill from there. Again, you have to take it for what it is and when it was, okay? Think of it as a time capsule.

Of the albums mentioned here, the two-CD Fillmore set provides the most bang for the buck, both for material and sound quality. Highlights include the Brubeckish "Gold And Silver," the hounds-of-hell chorus of "Codeine," the raw raunch of "Hoochie Coochie Man", and the just-fer-fun bounce of "Duncan And Brady."

And when those Quicksilver boys locked in on a Bo Diddley groove (the 9 minute-plus "Mona")... look out. At that very moment, they were the kings of the yet-to-be-born jamband world, flailing away for all they were worth.

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