On the precipice of some very bad vibes — they were about to lose Nicky Hopkins then David Freiberg before going into a folk-rock abyss with Dino Valenti — Quicksilver Messenger Service put on one of its last truly great shows.
Appearing in 1970 at their home base of Mill Valley, California, this unjustly forgotten group was touring behind a solid studio effort in Shady Grove. Late guitarist John Cipollina’s vibrato powered standout tracks like “Joseph’s Coat and the title track, while Hopkins took the spotlight for “Edwards (The Mad Shirt Grinder).” None, alas, is featured here — in fact, Quicksilver opens with a new song, a rough little groover called “Subway” — yet Live at the Old Mill Tavern still does much to make one final case for itself as the best proto-jam band you never knew.
Live at the Old Mill Tavern: March 29, 1970, due August 27, 2013 from Purple Pyramid, actually smooths out some of the Happy Trails-era’s edges, but there’s still no denying the group’s free-form prowess. From another classically shambolic take on Bo Diddley’s “Mona” to the starkly emotional, similarly as-yet-unreleased “Mojo,” Quicksilver Messenger Service is building toward a truly revelatory moment: Two molten blues jams to close things out with Chicago harp king James Cotton.
That they could even hold their own says it all. But Quicksilver does more than that. This isn’t a tribute performance, but a true collaboration, a colliding of two worlds — and Cotton sounds emboldened by the rising din around him. Live at the Old Mill Tavern concludes amidst these 22-plus minutes of collaborative wonder.