Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jefferson Starship at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Paul Kantner
Jefferson Airplane ruled psychedelic rock from its origin in 1965 until its dissolution in the early 1970s. Late in the Airplane's iffy period, vocalist/guitarist Paul Kantner launched a side project with a fluid membership that eventually by 1974 became known as Jefferson Starship. In the mid-1970s, Jefferson Starship had a string of middle-of-the-road hits, and by the 1980s had become more of a commercial MTV-era rock band. Once past the hit period, Jefferson Starship regrouped and  returned to its original folk rock sound. Meanwhile, another spin-off of the group, Starship, still tours occasionally with a different set of former members and is centered on the music of the band's 1980s pop tunes. Jefferson Starship's most recent album is 2008's Jefferson's Tree of Liberty and tours with a lineup of Paul Kantner (vocals, guitar), recurring members David Freiberg (vocals, guitar) and Donny Baldwin (drums), and newer members Cathy Richardson (vocals), Chris Smith (keyboards, bass synthesizer), and Jude Gold (lead guitar).

The Jefferson Starship concert tonight at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill was billed as a tribute to Jefferson Airplane's 50th anniversary. The band advertised that it would not perform "We Built This City," one of the band's biggest hits from its commercial rock history. This added gravitas to its Jefferson Airplane credentials and distanced Jefferson Starship from the pop band it later became. The evening did not live up to its advertising. Out of 18 songs, only seven were Jefferson Airplane songs, and some were relatively obscure. Another six songs were from the Jefferson Starship catalogue, and the rest were either new songs or covers. The evening included a credible version of the Airplane's "Somebody to Love" and an interesting mash-up of John Lennon's "Imagine" with Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," but otherwise Jefferson Starship was a lukewarm affair. A feeble-looking Kantner, who turned 74 last week, hobbled on stage a bit hunched-over, leaned on an instrument case for support and left the stage for several songs in the middle of the set; his contributions seemed minimal.(Later note: Kantner had a heart attack three days later and dropped out of the tour.) Richardson was a capable singer and Gold was a sizzling guitarist when the songs gave him room, but overall the band performance was tepid and uninspiring. The retreaded Jefferson Starship was best suited for a nostalgia that lives better in our memories.

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