Jefferson Airplane

Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/16/66: Early & Late Shows: Grace's Debut

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Arguably the turning point in the career of Jefferson Airplane was the weekend of October 14-16, 1966, when the band played the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco on a triple bill, preceded by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and followed by headliner Big Mama Mae Thornton, two shows a night. This was the engagement during which the Airplane's original female singer, Signe Anderson, gave way to Grace Slick. Anderson performed on the first two nights (the late show of the second providing the archival album Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/15/66: Late Show -- Signe's Farewell, released simultaneously with this album in 2010), and Slick took over on Sunday night; the 27-and-a-half-minute early show and the 43-minute late show are presented here. Within six months, the photogenic Slick would go on to become the face of San Francisco rock, leading the Airplane into the Top Ten with the songs she brought with her from her previous group, the Great Society, "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit." Neither of them is heard here, and Slick's fashion-model looks cannot be appreciated on a CD, but she makes an impression, nevertheless. Given that she was stepping in with less than 24 hours' break after her predecessor's departure, it is not surprising that the first show (tracks one through six) has a tentative feel. But this is still a typical Airplane performance of the period, since Anderson was not really a major factor, largely consigned to singing along with Marty Balin and taking the occasional solo line. The major factors were Balin, whose tenor voice dominated the vocal aspect of the band, and the Jorma Kaukonen/Jack Casady/Spencer Dryden lead guitar/bass/drums rhythm section (with rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner also strumming along). Still, by the start of the second show with "Tobacco Road," Slick is starting to make herself noticed with her characteristic keening wails, even if the set largely belongs to Kaukonen, who performs a slow, bluesy version of Leiber & Stoller's "Kansas City" (a song not otherwise heard on an Airplane album) and leads his unit through the ten-minute instrumental "Thing." And when Slick takes a verse of "High Flyin' Bird," the Airplane starts to sound like the band that was about to make Surrealistic Pillow and go on to national success. The transition is caught on this valuable recording, appearing from the vaults after 44 years.

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