Friday, May 15, 2009

Trippin' Down Memory Lane with Jefferson Airplane

Fly Jefferson Airplane
Eagle Rock Entertainment // 2004 // 111 Minutes // Not Rated

Reviewed by Steve Evans

“We are forces of chaos and anarchy/Everything they say we are, we are.”

Such was the sentiment of late ‘60s anarchists and their Greek chorus, which included, among other groups, the famed acid-rock of the Jefferson Airplane. If the Airplane didn’t always seem clear on what they wanted to overthrow, at least they could lay down a unique sound with the soaring vocals of Grace Slick and Marty Balin. Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen wove complex leads around the vocalists with his serpentine solos, while rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner and bassist Jack Casady laid the foundation with drummer Spencer Dreyden and later, Joey Covington. When the band was tight, they were as great as anyone to emerge from San Francisco’s mid-’60s Haight-Ashbury scene. By 1967, they were proponents of the Summer of (Don’t You Want Somebody to) Love.

Three years later, the Airplane would champion social upheaval in the waning days of the Vietnam War, with raucous songs like “Volunteers” and “We Can Be Together,” but it was warring factions within the group that led to their implosion in 1973. Several of the founding members continued under the Jefferson Starship banner and eventually just Starship, but let’s not go there. Better to see and hear these icons at the height of their glory, flaunting their iconoclasm and — incredibly — infiltrating mainstream culture. It’s mindblowing to realize that the Airplane performed “Martha” — a hauntingly beautiful ballad drenched in LSD imagery — on a 1968 Perry Como special. The Airplane is also the only band to play the legendary trifecta of rock festivals — Monterrey Pop, Woodstock and Altamont, although only the Monterrey gig is featured on this disc. During the interview segments, members of the band talk about the chaos that was Woodstock and the tragedy at Altamont. No one seems eager to recall either show.

The video and sound are as good as can be expected from source material that is nearly 40 years old, although I got a note from the DVD producer that every electronic trick in the book was used to clean up the footage as best as could be done. Concert tracks have been tricked out in a Dolby 5.1 remaster, although the sound is thin and offers minimal sonic benefits to the rear channels.

Set List:

• “It’s No Secret”
• “Somebody to Love”
• “High Flyin’ Bird”
• “White Rabbit”
• “Martha”
• “Crown of Creation”
• “Lather”
• “House at Pooneil Corners”
• “Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil”
• “We Can Be Together”
• “Plastic Fantastic Lover”
• “Volunteers”
• “Embryonic Journey”

As nostalgia this is a good package, covering the Airplane’s hits and best-known songs, with an eyeful of hippie fashions and dance moves, as well as a generous helping of peace, love and understanding. The disc also gives viewers the useful option of playing all song selections as an extended concert, or interspersing the performances with interviews; some recent, some 35 years old. But don’t expect anyone to dish on the infamous infighting and petty squabbles that ultimately destroyed this group. Even the notoriously outspoken Slick seems to have grown up; she offers nothing but high praise for her former band mates and their status as rock icons (check out her now & way-back-when pictures, above right). Seeing the band members today is something of a shock, not so much to reconcile the sight of musicians in their 60s with their youthful counterparts nearly four decades ago, but to hear tales of their escapades and realize that these people actually survived the ’60s with their minds and ideologies essentially intact.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

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