Collector’s Choice Music has just issued four historic live albums by the Jefferson Airplane. The first was recorded at the Fillmore Auditorium October 15, 1966 and was singer Signe Anderson’s final concert with the group. The second was recorded a day later and featured Grace Slick’s debut with the group. Release number three is from a pair of shows recorded about a month later and finds Grace Slick settling in as a member of the band.
The fourth album in the series is Jefferson Airplane: Return To The Matrix 02/01/68, which features two discs and 103 minutes of unreleased live music by one of the premier bands of the psychedelic era.
Recorded about sixteen months after Grace’s debut, she has now settled in as a key component of Jefferson Airplane. When she was hired, it is doubtful if the band members realized that they were getting one of the great female voices in rock history in addition to a woman who would become symbolic of the era. By late 1968, though, she had become the visual focal point of the band.
The Jefferson Airplane was one of those bands who would take their short, concise studio tracks and stretch them out when playing live. The instrumental skills of Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen, and Jack Cassady were some of the best that rock had to offer. Their studio albums may have been commercially successful, but their live skills and reputation would ensure their induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Return To The Matrix finds the band at the height of their powers. They had been on the road and in the recording studio for three years. They could now draw material from three of their signature albums, Surrealistic Pillow, After Bathing At Baxter’s, and Crown Of Creation.
Grace Slick also brought two songs with her from her first group, The Great Society. Both “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit would become hit singles and be ranked among The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine. Slick is in fine vocal form and “Somebody To Love,” which begins the concert, immediately ramps up the energy. Her “Two Heads” is also a nice performance as well.
Marty Balin’s vocals were always a nice counterpoint to Slick’s, whether as the lead, in support, or as a duet. Here he is best represented by “It’s No Secret,” “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” “Today,” and “Share A Little Joke.”
The old rock song “Kansas City” was a staple of their live act at the time although they would use it as a jumping off point for their guitar excursions. The last three tracks present the concert Airplane at its best as they cover about a half hour of time. “Ice Cream Phoenix,” Donovan’s “Fat Angel,” and the ten minute closer “Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil” stand among their best live work.
It is nice that the Jefferson Airplane vaults have been opened. Return To The Matrix is a stunning document of the era and one of the bands that defined American rock.