Jefferson Airplane: Sweeping Up the Spotlight: Live at the Fillmore East 1969


It’s perfectly appropriate Jorma Kaukonen writes the brief liner notes to this recently exhumed Jefferson Airplane concert recording. Sweeping Up the Spotlight documents Jefferson Airplane just as it was fracturing along the fault line that opened earlier in 1969 when the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter launched Hot Tuna with bassist Jack Casady.

Jefferson Airplane were the first of the San Francisco bands kind to reach mainstream success with hits from their second album Surrealistic Pillow – “Somebody to Love” and "White Rabbit" – only the latter of which appears here (and in a rather desultory rendition at that). Slowly but surely fragmenting into factions from 1966 to 1969, the band nevertheless hung together is a beautifully laissez-fair manner: at the point this album was recorded, singer/writer Marty Balin remained the fulcrum of the group as he originally did as a founding member, his presence prominent on this CD in the form of fevered singing on “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and Fred Neil’s “Other Side of this Life.”

Extended to over ten-minutes, that track is a testament to how The Airplane maintained some semblance of productive functionality, even if not perfectly stable. The blues-oriented (“Come Back Baby”) approach of the musicianly guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and long-time pal Casady remained in synch with drummer Spencer Dryden; the latter’s departure and that of Kaukonen (recounted in his song “Last Night in the Chelsea” from the next Airplane studio album Bark) the next year rent the chemistry of the group and terminally undercut their momentum, such is symbolized here by the frenzied “Ballad of You and Me And Pooneil.”

This complete recording of The Airplane show from the famous New York venue illustrates how delicate the balance within the band had become and how that, in turn, resulted in progressively less cohesion on stage (and off). Paul Kantner did remain a muscular rhythm guitarist while Grace Slick continued the unconventional use of her voice as a distinct instrument in the overall sound—hear “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon”– while the former’s socio-political inclinations (“Volunteers,” “Crown of Creation”) dovetailed with her avant-garde leanings (“You Wear Your Dresses Too Short”). But these elements of the band’s sound were losing prominence as Kaukonen and Casady asserted themselves and their own priorities.

In terms of playing time alone the erstwhile Hot Tuna men dominate the proceedings with close to a third of an hour devoted to tracks where they are front and center: “Good shepherd,” “Uncle Sam Blues” and “Come Back Baby.” And this doesn’t count the improvisational interludes within aforementioned cuts. While in purely musical terms, it might be preferable to hear Hot Tuna themselves, it is nonetheless fascinating, not to mention important, to hear how the offshoot band coalesced and how Jefferson Airplane furthered that process—even if it was subconsciously against the collective will.

Released in 1996, and adorned with original stylized artwork, Live At Fillmore East posits Jefferson Airplane is all their glory in every respect including the archival angle as the package contains interviews with most of the band members as well as a cross section of material from all phases of their career taken from a selection of Fillmore appearances. Equally appropriately considering its content, gauche quasi psychedelic graphics adorns the front cover of Sweeping Up the Spotlight, Jefferson Airplane’s performance akin to the final fusillade just before the conclusion of a fireworks display.

Related Content

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide