Sony/BMG's Legacy imprint decided to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Woodstock by issuing a slew of double-disc deluxe packages by catalog artists who played the festival. Each slipcase contains the featured artist's entire performance at Woodstock and as a bonus, an LP sleeve reproduction of a classic album issued near the time the festival occurred, as well as fine, individually designed 16" X 24" double-sided posters. Of the five volumes in the Woodstock Experience series, the Jefferson Airplane's volumes is simultaneously one of the most compelling and frustrating. Musically, this is one of, if not the greatest live performances we have on tape of the band at the peak of their ability and creativity, prefacing the release of their Volunteers album (included here as well) three months after this gig. There are five previously unissued tracks in this set -- six if you include the introduction. They include Fred Neil's "The Other Side of This Life,"(that kicks off the set), "3/5 of A Mile in 10 Seconds" "Wooden Ships," "The Ballad of You, Me & Pooneil," the traditional blues "Come Back Baby," and the Airplane's set closer "The House at Pooneil Corners." The Airplane's set is a long one, the longest in the Woodstock Experience series, clocking in at over 90 minutes, but it's enthralling throughout. Whether it's the electrified versions of the tunes from Surrealistic Pillow -- "Plastic Fantastic Lover," "White Rabbit," and "Somebody to Love," or the 14-minute space rock in "The Ballad of You, Me & Pooneil," from After Bathing at Baxter's with its massive bass solo by Jack Casady, or the ragged but righteous "House at Pooneil Corners" from Crown of Creation, the Airplane prove here that they could rock with the best of them. Their set as a whole is explosive and full of surprises, with excellent vocal work from Grace Slick and Marty Balin, and very sophisticated interplay between Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner, Casady, guest pianist Nicky Hopkins, and drummer Spencer Dryden.
That's the good news. The bad news is the package itself: Sony Legacy blew it by following a format rather than considering the music first. The other volumes in the series also include a catalog album. And it's always the first disc. This presented a problem because the Airplane's set was so long. The label's design department chose to follow format rather than serve the music properly. They sequenced the band's concert performance to begin after the last track of Volunteers on disc one -- it can be a complete buzzkill unless you just begin disc one at track 11. What would have made more sense would have been to either issue these CDs by themselves, or to begin Volunteers after the last song of the Woodstock gig to better preserve the integrity of the gig itself. It's true that the concert would still have been broken up on two discs, but the break would have come at the beginning of the long encore. Marks off for this, but the music itself is simply stellar throughout.