Saturday, April 13, 2013

Jefferson Starship - M-Shop, Ames, Iowa 4/10/13

"We don't play "We Built This City."" 

That right there, posted on the Jefferson Starship official Facebook page, was enough to convince me to check out this show on Wednesday night at the Maintenance Shop in Ames.

Now some may dismiss the current Jefferson Starship tour as being sub-par because the lineup features only two original members. Fair enough, but it should be noted that the lineups within the Starship franchise have been on a constant rotation since the band was established as Jefferson Airplane in 1965. When the Jefferson Airplane formed, the era of the psychedelic rock began. Airplane paved the way for other tripmasters such as the Grateful Dead, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Janis Joplin.

Paul Kantner in front, then Cathy Richardson and David Freiberg
(Photo by Bigfoot Diaries. Click to enlarge)

Over the years the band's lineup has changed considerably featuring some of rock's most intellectual musicians including Harvey Brooks, Pete Seger, Jerry Garcia, Jack Casady, Prairie Prince, David Crosby, Papa John Creech, Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen, and Peter Wolfe. Mainstays have been David Freiberg on vox and bass, Paul Kantner on guitar.  

The current lineup features these two mainstays, as well as Chris Smith on keys, Cathy Richardson on vox, and Jude Gold on lead, who is filling on for Slick Aguilar, who is on hiatus awaiting a liver transplant. Donny Baldwin was with Jefferson Starship in around '81-83, and became the full-time drummer in 2006. 

While these current members are not original in the enterprise, they are skilled musicians who have rightfully earned their spot onstage under the Jefferson Starship banner. Chris Smith is the longest tenured keyboardist with the band, having joined the group in 1998. Baldwin played drums with Elvin Bishop (yes, that's him playing on "I Fooled Around and Fell in Love.") and later with the Jerry Garcia Band up until Jerry's death in 1995. Jude Gold is a star in his own right, having played with Eddie Money, 2 Live Crew, and Kristen Chenoweth. He is also a well known guitar journalist, having written articles for Guitar Player magazine. Cathy Richardson, who arguably has the biggest shoes to fill - those of Grace Slick - has been singing with bands in Chicago for many years, and more recently, in San Francisco. One of these bands is Big Brother and the Holding Company, the band that backed Janis Joplin.

A few minutes after 8:00 the band took the stage and got off to a sheepish start. The Maintenance Shop, being the first stop on this current tour, seems as good a place as any to shake off a bit of rust. They seemed to take a few minutes getting things running smoothly during "Sunrise" from the 1970 release, Blows Against The EmpireHowever, in no time at all the jet propulsion packs were firing and the Starship was off the ground.

It became apparent right away that they would be digging deep into the nugget vault on this evening, following Sunrise with the semi- rare "Have You Seen The Saucers?" The only pressed recording of this song is contained on Jefferson Airplane's 2nd live album, Thirty Seconds Over Winterland.

Jefferson Starship in heavier times.
(Freidman front left, and Kantner front right)
"We're going to play most of Surrealistic Pillow and Red Octopus." Kantner told the audience. This of course drew excitement from the enthusiastic crowd, who was clearly OK with not hearing any modern hits.

True to his word, Jefferson Starship played from it's roots throughout it's entire set, with the only exception being "Beautiful Girl," a song written by Richardson and recorded with her other band, The Macrodots. 

"They're just like microdots," she explained to the audience. "But they're really fucking big!"

Jude Gold
Highlights of the night included the band leaving Gold alone on the stage for five minutes while he performed his version of Jorma Kaukonen's "Embryonic Journey." Gold made it his own, stretching it out to over twice it's original length, adding his own subtle nuances. It seemed to me to be a tall order for him to take on such a legendary endeavor, but he brushed away that notion.

"The great thing about playing with Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship is that musical adventure and innovation is always encouraged." Gold said to me through email. "So playing a 2013 updated, electric guitar version of a piece like "Embryonic Journey" is not only accepted, it's welcomed and encouraged."

Gold went on to add, "Paul's an innovator himself, of course. He deserves as much credit for bringing electric guitars to folk music as Bob Dylan or anyone else does."

The crowd engulfed the band.
(Photo by Bigfoot Diaries, click to enlarge)
Another highlight of the evening was the band's performance of "Fresh Air," a cover tune written by the Quicksilver Messenger Service, of which Freiberg was a founding member. One could almost feel the air leave the room when he sang, "Take another hit.... Of fresh air!" Chris Smith was especially eclectic on this song, which really showcased his organ skills. He, like Ray Manzerik of the Doors are the only two keyboardists I can think of who handle the band's bass through the keyboard.

Richardson was fantastic, and while she wasn't trying to mimic Grace Slick, she definitely had Slick's range and vocal vibrato. She handled the vocals effortlessly, and proved that she is a world class performer. She especially shined on the classics, "Somebody to Love" and "Count on Me."

Cathy Richardson performs with Jefferson Starship
(Press Photo) 
The Maintenance Shop is such a quaint little place, more of a coffee shop than a concert venue. The crowd literally engulfed the band, surrounding them on three sides. There was no security, and nobody took advantage of this and pushed their way to the front. There was room to go up close if you wanted to, or to hang back in the shadows. There was no seating at this show, and the crowd didn't seem to mind being on it's feet for an hour and a half. While I  personally wondered if we were going to get a half-baked performance, I was actually blown away at times, and felt extremely grateful to be up and close with such rock and roll royalty. 

Plus, they didn't play "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" or "We Built This City"  which right there made it worth the ticket price.

Set List:

Have You Seen the Saucers?
Ride the Tiger
She Has Funny Cars
Somebody to Love
3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds
Embryonic Journey
White Rabbit
Plastic Fantastic Lover
Beautiful Girl
Fast Buck Freddie
Count On Me
Fresh Air (Quicksilver Messenger Service cover) 
The Ballad of You, Me, and Pooneil




Pertinent Links:

Jefferson Starship Official

Jefferson Starship Official Facebook

Jude Gold Artist Facebook

No comments: