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Published: 2013/08/31
by Brian Robbins

Quicksilver Messenger Service
Live At The Old Mill Tavern - March 29, 1970

Purple Pyramid Records

On one hand, March of 1970 might be seen as the beginning of the end for Quicksilver Messenger Service. Keyboard genius Nicky Hopkins (who had joined the band the year before when co-founding guitarist Gary Duncan took a sabbatical) would be departing soon; so would guitarist/legend John Cipollina and David Freiberg, whose bass had provided Quicksilver’s pulse since the beginning. Vocalist Dino Valenti (fresh from serving a two-year jail term for pot possession) had joined the band – a move that will always be a source of debate for Quicksilver historians. Valenti had a strong set of pipes and a knack for songwriting; he also leaned towards the poppier folk/rock side of things – and the front-man-and-his-band dynamic that developed as Valenti settled into his berth no doubt contributed to the key players’ departure.

But no matter what was to come, 3/29/70 found the six-man Quicksilver lineup (Hopkins, a back-in-the-fold post-burnout Duncan, Cipollina, Freiberg, Valenti, and drummer Greg Elmore) in its honeymoon period and playing their asses off at Mill Valley, CA’s Old Mill Tavern. Purple Pyramid Records’ latest mining of the QSM vaults offers up an eight-song set from that night, tasty warts and all. There are all sorts of sizzles, frizzles, pops, and squeals that come and go – and Freiberg’s bass is almost non-existent on the opener “Subway” until it magically explodes into the mix at 4:15. The result, however, is warm and smoky you-are-there ambience; a lazy-lidded-and-grinning locket of vintage jams both imperfect and just right.

“The Truth”’s melody line bears more than a passing similarity to Valenti’s “Fresh Air” (Quicksilver’s 1969 radio hit) but the tune’s real meat and taters are the guitar breaks – shimmery voyages by Cipollina and Duncan seasoned by Elmore’s Latin-flavored percussion work and dustings of piano by Hopkins.

Before the band tiptoes into “Baby Baby”, Valenti warns that they’ve never tried it before because “we’ve never heard it before we walked up on the stage.” We know it has to be an exaggeration – at least on Valenti’s part, as the tune is credited to his alter ego, Jesse Oris Farrow – but the first few moments do sound a bit tentative before the band slips into a nice stoned-on-a-Sunday-afternoon groove with wisps of Hopkins’ keys and Cipollina’s fingerpicked guitar woven throughout.

“Rain” (whose opening seconds are threatened by an ominous PA crackle that eventually disappears) never busts out into a full-fledged jam, but there are plenty of dollops of dreamy piano and guitar work to get lost in. “Mojo” launches as a raw, throat-burning blues growler before venturing off into a wailfest of guitars, featuring Duncan’s bristled-up riffs and wild-ass Bigsby work by Cipollina. This sets the mood for veteran harpman James Cotton to join the fun for a pair of back–to-back jams that total over 22 minutes. As out there as Quicksilver could get, they could easily work within the confines of the blues structure and keep it hopping. All hands sound like they’re having a blast, challenging each other for chorus after chorus as they put their individual spins on the lead and pass it around.

Nestled in the midst of all this is a killer take of the Quicksilver fave “Mona” – all Bo Diddley shimmy-shake, tumbling drums, and whoop-whooping bass lines. There are longer versions in captivity (this one clocks in at only 7:59) but this is a fine, fine example of what the six-cylinder version of QSM could do. Valenti belts it out, with his bandmates joining him for the roaring choruses; Hopkins’ piano is somewhere between old-timey barroom and Acid Test; Elmore and Freiberg shake the groove in their teeth like a pair of foamy-jawed junkyard dogs; and Cipollina and Duncan do some fierce weaving and bobbing – an example of classic psychedelic guitar.

Rough and tumble though it may be in places, Live At The Old Mill Tavern is a snapshot in time whose colors haven’t faded. Honest and true – never mind the occasional tech glitches: there are plenty of bands who hit the stage these days with a helluva lot more gizmos to work with and never produce this kind of energy, boys and girls.

Bring on the frizzle, I say.


Brian Robbins doesn’t allow foamy-jawed junkyard dogs over at

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