Jefferson Airplane, an American band from San Francisco, achieved success in the late Sixties with their sophomore album, ‘Surrealistic Pillow’, which included ‘Somebody to Love’ and ‘White Rabbit’. The band perfectly exemplified the American hippie ethos, with drug-inspired and politically driven lyrics, sensitive ballads and a treasure trove of acoustic/electric guitar work.

On ‘Sweeping Up the Spotlight: Live at The Fillmore East 1969', this legendary New York concert album juxtaposes acoustic folk innocence, virtue of Paul Kantner, understated vocals from Marty Balin (for example on ‘Other Side of This Life’), and startling echoes of Alice in Wonderland with Grace Slick’s fiery ‘White Rabbit’, as well as the lesser-promoted, ‘Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon,’ in which Slick has to struggle to be heard amidst the misty barrage of male voices. Case in point is when Slick finally lets loose on ‘White Rabbit,’ her star moment evaporates all too soon in this extraordinarily short rendition; it’s a bloody shame the band didn’t urge her to take off and fly. After all, this was the Airplane’s quintessential stoner ballad which came across lucidly not in spite of, but because of, Slick’s incredible stamp.

In keeping with the free-wheeling times, ‘Plastic Fantastic Lover’ embraces jangly strings, a steady beat and jumbling phrases such as, “the electrical dust is starting to rust”, lyrics which can now be seen as a precursor to American rap.

Kantner’s keyboard-happy ‘Volunteers,’ on which the message “this generation got no hesitation at all” speaks volumes about the youth movement’s irreverence towards “the straights” is convincing, but musically it's no match for Slick’s visceral, all-consuming pipes. In that way the album almost seems uneven, as if it were divided into two distinct musical camps, especially when Jorma Kaukonen and bassist partner-in-crime, Jack Casady, combine forces on ‘Come Back Baby’ and ‘Uncle Sam Blues’ for a return home to roots music, and then commit a decided about turn on ‘Good Shepherd’ to predictable folk with Peter, Paul and Mary harmonies. Kantner’s ‘The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil’ is characterized by an ear-piercing electric guitar intro, a jarring modulation and quirky, somewhat bewildering transitions.

The chunky riff that dominates ‘You Wear Your Dresses Too Short’ sadly pushes the lead vocal under the bus, although the later instrumental solo evens the cacophony out for a few bars.

Besides the twelve cuts, the project includes archival interviews and liner notes by Kaukoken who still tours nationally today in Hot Tuna. Predictably, it’s fun to hear the performers poking around on mics and communicating with the crew, as well as the invariable audience reactions to each number. All in all, this performance includes some unforgettable tunes that is bound to stir up memories for baby boomers. Will it fascinate younger ears? Hard to say.

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