Quicksilver Messenger Service – Live at the Fillmore (2013)

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Time to make room for another live set by Quicksilver Messenger Service, an often-overlooked band which has always been defined by the 1969 concert document Happy Trails.

Recorded just over a month after the arrival of Quicksilver’s self-titled debut, Live at the Fillmore: June 7, 1968 is anything but embryonic. In fact, Quicksilver Messenger Service was one of the last of the Bay Area hippie-rock bands to sign a deal. They’d been an area favorite for years by this point, and that time on the road — which included a signature appearance at 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival — had helped them perfect an intriguing blend of rock, folk, blues, Bo Diddley, jazz, samba, bluegrass, a whisper of classical like patchouli on the breeze and some kind of crazy lysergic hoodoo.

It’s all in evidence on this summer night, in a concert that makes the case all over again for Quicksilver as an unheralded — and utterly unique — architect of the psychedelic sound.

Though they are often lumped in with other San Francisco-based groups of the period, the truth is there was — and is — much to differentiate the Quicksilver from contemporaries like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. Gary Duncan (who still leads the group with bassist David Freiberg) unleashes these ringing, swinging lines that couldn’t have had less to do with the distorted, over-amped antics associated with the time. (For that, they had John Cipollina, who used tremolo and distortion like painters use brushes and oils.) The vocals are unshaven, wild as old vines, still a stunning testament to unrefined rock ‘n’ roll attitude. There’s more than a hint of the Southern and country rock subgenres still to come from the likes of the Allman Brothers (dig those twin guitars!) and the Eagles, as well. And nobody, and I mean nobody, could disassemble Diddley like they did.

The set (perhaps as expected) focuses on 1968’s Quicksilver Messenger Service, including the originals familiar “Light Your Windows” and “Dino’s Song,” as well as their acid-laced version of Hamilton Camp’s folk song “Pride of Man” and the extended, deliriously wackadoo jam “The Fool.”

Also featured on Live at the Fillmore: June 7, 1968 (due April 9, 2013 from Purple Pyramid-Cleopatra Records) are a few live staples that would also later appear on Happy Trails: Diddley’s “Who Do You Love,” which is bent and stretched and reshaped by a group that also included drummer Greg Elmore into a still-stunning 12-minute suite; a scorching, tribal version of “Mona,” also by Diddley; and the Spanish-flavored instrumental “Calvary.” There’s a different feel to them here, though, a freshness borne of approaching them with newer ears.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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