Live In Central Park NYC (12th May 1975) Double CD
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New York City 1975. The city is teetering on bankruptcy, mere months away from President Ford's infamous "Drop dead" speech. And over 100,000 well-lubricated fans attend a free concert by Jefferson Starship in Central Park. What could go wrong? Actually, unless you were a tree, not much (a constant theme of the concert is threats by the police and park staff to shut down the show unless fans get out of the trees, and the Starship and the concert sponsor, WNEW-FM, had to pony up for park repairs after the event). This is the Starship on the eve of the release of Red Octopus, mere months away from ascending commercial heights never attained by the Airplane, and the band is absolutely on fire - there's a reason this concert ranks among the most treasured bootlegs in Airplane or Starship tape collector circles. And speaking of tape collectors, for this first-ever legitimate release we have worked with a tape provided by the band and filled in some gaps (including the long-lost ending of "Volunteers") with recordings contributed by collectors to present the complete show on two CD's mastered by Vic Anesini at Battery Studios (minus some of the incessant exhortations to get out of the trees). The material ranges from songs off of their debut 'Dragonfly' - ('Ride the Tiger', 'Caroline') to tunes from the forthcoming 'Red Octopus' - ('Play on Love', 'Fast Buck Freddie') to Airplane faves 'White Rabbit', 'Somebody to Love' and 'Volunteers', performed by the early Starship line-up of Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Marty Balin, David Freiberg, Craig Chaquico, Pete Sears, John Barbata and Papa John Creach. The Kantner-Slick-Balin vocal dynamics have rarely been better than on this recording, and guitarist Chaquico particularly shines; it being the '70s, there are also long drum and bass solos and a bit of the anarchic spirit of mid-'70s New York City seeps into the show as well. The scene is captured by professional photographer Allan Tannenbaum (photographer/author of New York in the '70s), who was at the gig and supplies photos (including the cover shot) for this collection, while Richie Unterberger's notes set the stage for the Starship playing the biggest gig imaginable.
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You could be tempted to say "why bother" or "who cares about a concert that happened almost 40 years ago?" but for fans this is the Holy Grail. Recorded a month before the release of their groundbreaking Red Octopus the band was in probably its best shape musically and physically. Breaking free from their Jefferson Airplane days the band was moving in a new direction with hot new guitarist Craig Chiquico and fiddler virtuoso Papa John Creech. The core troika of Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, and Grace Slick were on perhaps the best terms they'd ever been and the band was anxious to tour to support their new album which would succeed in ways they couldn't imagine. The band's musical identity was still a bit bipolar; still drawing on their past with Jefferson Airplane, but wanting to move forward. It's somewhat appropriate they were playing Central Park; the core of a then-broken city teetering on bankruptcy in a country where the euphoria of the Summer of Love had given way to the endless shocks of the 70s.
Listening to the concert you quickly get a sense of how chaotic the scene must have been and how different concerts were then as opposed to now. The rambunctious crowd is repeatedly told to get out of the trees which initially made me laugh, but then I realized if they wanted a good view they would have HAD to have climbed the trees as there were no jumbotrons back in that era. Considering the finished product is an assemblage of master tapes made by the band interspersed with bootleg segments the sound is overall fairly good. Not as good as more modern live recordings but not bad considering its provenance. The band opens with a raucous version of "Ride the Tiger" setting the tone for how raw and energized the band is. The vocal interplay between Balin, Kantner, and Slick have never sounded better and Chiquico's guitar playing is electrifying. The set list focuses on selections from their prior Dragon Fly and the about-to-be-released Red Octopus interspersed with choice Airplane-era tracks. The crowd response is rapturous, especially for the Airplane-era tracks and its clear the band was still tentative about completely abandoning their past lest they alienate fans. There are groan inducing moments with bass, drum, and guitar solos that reminded me how much concerts and bands have changed since that era. Outside of certain jam bands I cannot imagine any band indulging in such excesses anymore, but that was a product of the time and expression of their individuality. By the time it's all over you feel jarred back to the present and realize how immersed in the event you'd become. There aren't bands like this anymore and concerts like this just don't happen anymore.
My parents were huge Airplane fans and I grew up listening to Jefferson Starship. We were going to be in Milwaukee when they were performing in 1978 and naturally we had to go to the show. By then the band was a shambling wreck, coming apart due to Grace Slick's substance abuse problems and internal fighting. That wasn't the band I heard on "Live in Central Park" and it was nice to finally hear the band they way I'd hoped to hear them. I'm sure "Live in Central Park" won't sell as well now as it would have in the 1970s, but for those folks who've waited a long time to hear it, it's well worth the wait!
This album is basically an authorized bootleg, not a polished live album. The high frequencies are weak throughout, including in the 8-kHz range, not just at 16 kHz. Of course there is a good side to that though, as there isn't much tape hiss either. As is disclosed on the back cover, the very end of "Volunteers" is taken from a different source. That source is mono, while the rest of the recording is stereo. There is also 2 seconds of distortion at the 3:20 mark of "Better Lying Down." This distortion is also found on an FM-broadcast recording of the show.
There is nothing bootleg-quality about the packaging however, which is very nice and includes black & white photos from the actual concert of the band and the crowd, as well as comments from Paul Kantner.
Think of this like the Starship's version of the Dead's "Dick's Picks" series. While the sound quality is not perfect, it is reasonably priced for a 2-CD set and nice for fans of the band to have. Hopefully the Starship will release more live shows from their '74 - early '80s glory years.
Let me know other audiophiles. Am I right on this? I know the die-hard fanboys will be more forgiving, but this fan has waited too many years for this to be released when the mixers botched it. Let me know what you think.
Also on my receiver I turn the volume down to -65 and it is still too LOUD. What is up?