Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Jefferson Airplane—
Thirty Seconds Over Winterland


Released 1973 on Grunt
The Seth Man, May 2000ce
It seems that even total ‘Plane-aics’ would rather discuss “Sunfighter” or even Grace Slick’s appearance on “Seastones” rather than this jamming live behemoth. Were they writing this album off as a mere RCA contractual release (the label fearing they were about to split as they soon did, turning into the mediocre Jefferson Starship in the process)? Or was it the absence of live renditions of not only “White Rabbit,” “Somebody To Love” but anything pre-dating “Crown of Creation”? Or that most of the material (save a blistering “Crown of Creation”) was from The Airplane’s seventies output only?

You would think that most Airplane heads worth their stash would’ve duly noted that much of the all-time best Airplane material is live. And the performances captured on this disc are loud, raw, loose and anything but flower power. Although this document reflects a group on the verge of disintegration and breaking in new personnel (John Barbata: drums; Papa John Creach: violin; and David Freiberg: backing vocals), it captures a certain freedom The Airplane had live to be as tight AND loose as they wanted. There is perpetual squeaking of amps and interminable tuning up between numbers, but this is also a group that thrived on informality, and they roar out like a well-greased machine at war with itself. The musical thrust of The Airplane -- Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady -- had such a penchant for live jamming they gave birth to the splinter group Hot Tuna and it was common for them to both open for and then play with The Airplane, often clocking their stage time in excess of four hours straight.

And it was this drive and elongation of tunes that prolongs “Feels So Good” into twice the size of its “Bark” counterpart. The bass solo is all funk and loud as fuck, as the Hot Tuna elements of the band drown out Kantner’s spindly Rickenbacker rhythms in the process. But the whole album is loud, the product of offstage acrimony between Slick/Kantner and the Hot Tuna camps, manifesting itself into an all-out volume war that persisted throughout their last tour of the seventies. It was this battle of the amps that the venerable Papa John Creach revealed to Relix magazine in the late seventies, comparing the ever-deafening jacking up of volume controls to reducing the drums as effectual as “beating on bathtubs with baseball bats.” Those same bats start up “Crown of Creation” into a thundering recitation of the 1968 title track, with Casady’s bass rumbling throughout the quiet vocal/cymbal tapping coda like the densest fog, and it’s just as all-enveloping on “When The Earth Moves Again.” Grace Slick is in fine form throughout: like a post-acid, alcohol-fuelled Lorelei with lead and vocal harmonies that cut through even the densest of instrumentation. Her song “Milk Train” is introduced by the spry Papa John, who inquires “what’s happenin’?” of the audience and all he gets in response is cheering with one audience yahoo screaming out, “JORMA!” “Milk Train” is classic X-rated Slick, with the spotlight on Papa John to saw off with trademark high-pitched runs of rosin and lotsa class. “Trial By Fire” follows, and it’s veritably Hot Tuna as it’s heavy on the bass, Jorma’s gravelly vocals and old-tymey guitar. The band all reconvenes onstage and go for broke on the closing “Twilight Double Leader,” once introduced by Grace in concert as a song whose “lyrics mean nothing at all.” It’s a steamrolling, summer street anthem that breaks down into a mammoth jam with Casady building an Alembic bass pyramid brick by brick over Kaukonen’s throttling of his stereo, hollow-bodied Gibson wah-wah as Papa John stands his frail ground, adding sinewy violin runs over the top. It builds and repeats and then builds some more and nothing would stop it but for the breakdown to feedback and hurried drum final vignettes. All you’re left with is slight hearing loss, the quizzical cover or to flip it over to side one’s opener, “Have You Seen The Saucers?” and repeat as necessary.