A star-stuffed stop by Jefferson Starship at the Roswell UFO Festival offers new insight into the legends of Jefferson Airplane, the Dead and CSN, as well — along with a powerful reminder of that era’s deep sense of musical community.
Founding member Paul Kantner is joined here by longtime contributor David Freiberg and former Starship multi-instrumentalist Pete Sears, as well as special guests Tom Constanten, the Grateful Dead’s original keyboardist; and Barry Sless, a Phil Lesh sideman. (Cathy Richardson sits in for Airplane/Starship co-leader Grace Slick, now long retired.) Of course, this isn’t the first confluence of these legendary San Francisco bands: the initial Jefferson Starship-related release, 1970′s Blows Against the Empire, featured Kantner, Freiberg (an alum of Quicksilver Messenger Service) and Slick along with the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann; and both David Crosby and Graham Nash from Crosby Stills and Nash. Members of all three bands would make key contributions on one another’s albums for years to come.
More recently, however, each of their legends have grown apart in the public consciousness, to the point where many have likely forgotten these long ago moments of shared music making, of a now-rare creative confederacy. It’s a spirit that runs powerfully through Tales from the Mothership, available for purchase here via Gonzo MultiMedia. This expansive new concert recording features two discs from Jefferson Starship’s June 3, 2009 performance at the UFO Festival in Roswell, New Mexico, plus a disc each devoted to rehearsals leading up to the show and the soundcheck.
Highlights of the two-set concert bill include surprisingly effective updates of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” (Richardson absolutely tears through these Slick-composed gems from 1967′s Surrealistic Pillow); muscular versions of Kantner’s title tracks from 1968′s Crown of Creation and 1969′s Volunteers; as well as “Law Man” (1971′s Bark); and “Have You Seen the Saucers?” (1974′s Early Flight). The subsequent Jefferson Starship era is represented by “Sunrise” and “Starship” from 1970′s Blows Against the Empire, along with “Hyperdrive” (a song co-written by Sears for 1974′s Dragon Fly).
At the same time, there are spirited ruminations on the Grateful Dead favorites like “Dark Star,” “Me and My Uncle” and “Mountains of the Moon”; Garcia also appeared on Kantner’s 1973 release Baron von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun, from which “You Mind has Left Your Body” is culled. CSN-related moments include a soaring take on “Wooden Ships,” a track co-written by Crosby, Kantner and Stills that appeared both on Volunteers and on CSN’s self-titled debut, both in 1969; and “Have You Seen the Stars Tonight?,” a Kantner/Crosby number from Blows Against the Empire.
Elsewhere, the band detours for a series of setting-appropriate selections with an outer-space theme (David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”; “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon; “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago” from the trippy Norman Greenbaum-led Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band), while referencing some of the other touchstone musical moments like Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom,” the Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” and Fairport Convention’s “Genesis Hall.”
Speaking of that Richard Thompson tune, there was a strong element of folk underpinning early Jefferson Airplane, something that further underscored on Tales from the Mothership by an appearance from Jack Traylor — an early musical influence of Kantner’s. Rousing versions of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and “Billy the Kid” find a home here, as well.
Taken together, it’s a tour-de-force reminder of what made the 1960s and early 1970s such a special time in music, with Paul Kantner often right in the middle of it all.