Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Jefferson Airplane
Fly Jefferson Airplane (DVD)

Released 2004 on Eagle Vision
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 22/02/2005ce

1 It's No Secret (Fillmore ballroom 1966)
2 Somebody To Love (Monterey Pop 1967)
3 High Flying Bird (Monterey Pop 1967)
4 White Rabbit (Smothers Brothers show 1967)
5 Martha (promo clip / Perry Como TV special 1968)
6 Crown Of Creation (Smothers Brothers show 1968)
7 Lather (Smothers Brothers show 1968)
8 House At Pooneil Corners (filmed by Jean Luc Goddard 1968)
9 The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil (A Night At The Family Dog 1969)
10 We Can Be Together (promo clip w/ Woodstock(?) footage 1969)
11 Plastic Fantastic Lover (Go Ride The Music show 1970)
12 Volunteers (Go Ride The Music show 1970)
13 Embryonic Journey (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction 1996)

Most of these DVD retrospectives from dinosaur bands are of course meant to please the faithful who've been with the group since before forever, not so much to convert new fans. And I suspect that is largely true in this case as well, though even my wife who can't stand all the "hippy music" I play around the house got sucked into watching this DVD. Afterwards she said she had a lot more respect for the band in terms of "what they were all about" and also their unique music, though she still thinks Grace Slick is a weirdo (hell yeah she is!) and I'm still not allowed to play the Grateful Dead or Caravan in her presence.

Because in case YOU didn't already know, the Jefferson Airplane was the greatest anarcho-revolutionary psychedelic band of the sixties, and that's saying something brothers & sisters. I think it's fair to say there was never anyone like them before they came along, and has never been anything like them since. If you're already a fan of the Jeffersons, either in a major way or only mildly, needless to say this DVD is a real treat and you are sure to love it. It's very well put together and features only complete performances of songs. My only complaint is that I wish there was more!

"It's No Secret" is not really a live performance, but the original studio recording synched to live footage shot at the Fillmore in 1966 (with the original lineup including Signe Anderson & Skip Spence.) The song sounds fantastic in 5.1 surround however, and the synch job is so good that at first I didn't realize it wasn't actually live!

The Monterey festival performances give the best view of the original psychedelic light show that was projected behind their performances, and on "High Flying Bird" the first glimpse of the incredible chemistry between Balin & Slick. It doesn't seem that they really had "arranged harmonies" for their vocal parts, more like they were blowing harmolodic-style melodies that intertwine in chaotic patterns that somehow seem all the better for their rawness. Like a couple of jazz musicians or something. Has their ever been any other group with two such strong co-lead vocalists, and who came up with such an unorthodox approach to blending their voices? I think not. (And I never realized Paul Kantner played such a mean rhythm guitar before either.)

The first Smothers Brothers clip is where things start to get really good. "White Rabbit" is probably their most famous video clip, using primitive video effects to superimpose the band against floating colored oil globlets. The vision of the original acid queen staring into the living rooms of middle America with her piercing blue eyes and commanding "FEED YOUR HEAD!" is perhaps the most iconic moment in the band's entire career, and with good reason. Jorma is also super-badass-cool in his shades & headband, reeling off those lysergic guitar licks.

The clip for "Martha" is set to the studio recording again, and comes from a Perry Como TV special(!!!) It mainly features the band cavorting Monkees-style through Golden Gate park, and has a charming Summer of Love sunny day ambience. Once again, the 5.1 mix sounds fabulous.

Their second appearance on the Smothers show was REALLY one for the ages: for starters, Grace appeared in blackface! "Crown of Creation" is performed live and sounds wonderfully sinister & futuristic. It's a song about change and evolution and meant to throw down the gauntlet to the older generation and their old ways: "soon you'll achieve the stability you strive for . . . among the fossils of our time!"

"Lather" is from the same episode and seems to be lip-synched to a pre-recorded track (too many sound effects to be "live") but is an incredibly acid-damaged brainfuck (how many "nose solos" have you seen on TV?) with more of those headache-inducing primitive psychedelic video effects.

The highlight of the disc is the footage of the band performing a raging version of the uber-psychedelic "House at Pooneil Corners" from the rooftop of a Manhatten hotel (look for the RCA building in the background -- that was their record company at the time.) This event was (dis)organized by the legendary Jean Luc Goddard for one of his film projects, and in keeping with the times they deliberatly did NOT get a permit for the event, resulting in the guerilla-style affair being broken up by the cops & Marty Balin hauled off to jail (also shown in the clip.) Of course, the Beatles borrowed the idea a year later for their "Let It Be" project, right down to the gimmick of playing until the police showed up.

But all historical significance aside, this is one amazing sequence. Marty must have been tripping his brains out, because he's totally maniacal here, kicking off the proceedings by shrieking "WAKE UP FUCKERS!!! FREE MUSIC!!!! FREE LOVE!!!!!" through the skajillion-watt PA system, then gnashing and wailing through the rest of the song in a manner that is so over the top that Grace keeps cracking up at his antics. Though her singing is also stellar, as she is a totally unique figure in pop music whose banshee/siren howling bears little resemblance to Western musical traditions (or probably anybody else's traditions.) Instrumentally, the song is built on a surging see-saw riff that really rattles the glass canyons of New York, particularly Jack Cassady's thundering bass lines. Scaring the hell out of the straights on a workday morning! You just gotta love it. If there is one clip to show a skeptic who doesn't believe in the power of the Airplane, this is the one.

The version of "The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil" videotaped at The Family Dog in San Fran is mostly an instrumental showcase that begins with a massive blast of searing feedback from Jorma (who's starting to look just like a caveman by this point), and also features a big nazty bass solo by Jack (that dude is seriously under-rated as a musician -- I think he was the first rocker to ever play CHORDS on the bass -- at any rate he's better than Jack Bruce and nearly as good as the Zep & Who guys, only jazzier.)

"We Can Be Together" is another promo clip set to the studio recording, featuring footage of the band playing the tune with clips from the Woodstock festival. Since this song is probably the single greatest "hippy national anthem" ever written, for once the stock footage of nude longhairs waving joints and rolling in the mud doesn't seem like mere cliche or exploitation. Who'd have thought the words "up against the wall motherfucker" could be sung with such beauty and tenderness? And the look of pure rapture on Grace's face as she sings about anarchy and fucking in the streets! *sigh*

"Plastic Fantastic Lover" is a faster "funkier" version of one of their early songs played by the post-60's line-up with Joey Covington replacing Spencer Dryden on drums. It's okay, not really a highpoint.

"Volunteers" from the same TV program is much more impressive though, the band blasting through their hardest-rocking nugget with all the howling and stomping and raving that the song requires, intercut with footage of riots, protests and the like.

The final musical number is Jorma's instrumental guitar solo "Embryonic Journey", which really is a lovely piece of music and provides a suitably sentimental ending to the story of the band that preached revolution and lived to tell about it.

Interspersed between the musical numbers there are also contemporary interviews with all six members of the classic line-up of the band (as well as Joey Covington and some other folks), which is mildly interesting though won't provide any insights to anyone who's already a fan. For "bonus features" you get still more interview footage. I for one am glad that you can also play just the music clips without the interviews.

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