Jefferson Starship: When a Band Becomes a Tribute to Itself, but not sloppy dead…

It was with some lack of luster that I signed on to the concept of seeing (and hearing) Jefferson Starship in concert at the Twilight Concert Series at Santa Monica Beach the other night. In fact I probably wouldn’t have, but for the beach itself, and my wife’s love of it. I mean, I’m no huge fan of their biggest commercial hits: “We Built this City,” “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” etc., and a much much bigger fan of their earlier incarnation as the Jefferson Airplane…

Of course much of the problem is their third incarnation, or rather ‘spin-off’, as plain white ‘Starship’, which has more in common with Foreigner and Aha! than the Airplane, which pretty much defined ‘acid rock’. Still I showed up, hoping for the best—and was rewarded. Now I’m also no great fan of dino-rock in general, BUT… the Airplane was pretty special, and political, which seems very appropriate in this day and age. The current tour pays ample homage to the old days and ways and plays, while delivering quite acceptable renditions of the tunes themselves.

Freiberg and Richardson

Jefferson Starship’s Freiberg and Richardson

There’s only one problem—no original members, unless you count David Freiberg, better known for Quicksilver Messenger Service, and some late ‘fifth member’ work like Jim Messina did for another dying and splintering original group. I even moved up close to get a better view, just in case Paul Kantner was hiding in back of the stage that vocalist Kathy Richardson was dominating—and quite skillfully, I might add. As the show went on, I became increasingly bothered, since Kantner is supposed to be part of the current line-up, and the reason I was there, to be honest.

Was Kantner kicked out of his own group? That’s what I wanted to know. After all, references to Balin and Slick were frequent, but not Kantner. Finally—FINALLY—on the last song Richardson trots out Kantner-Slick daughter China Kantner for the wrap-up, but still… So I googled it next morning, and—sure enough—Kantner had a heart attack a few months back and is convalescing… while the show goes on without him. Richardson promised to dedicate every show to him, but I heard none of that.

The faithful awaiting the sacrament of song

The faithful awaiting the sacrament of song

And so ‘Jefferson Starship’ has somehow become a tribute band to the original Airplane with arguably no break in the line of transmission—kinda like Christianity, complete with apostles and latter-day saints, conspiracy theories need not apply. Wasn’t there once a movie like this, starring Marky Mark? So I try to explain all this to my wife, from Thailand, which really didn’t receive rock-and-roll until the mid-70s corporate era pushed the Bee Gees, Eagles, and John Denver on them so successfully that they are the gold standard of American rock-and-roll to this day.

But I really wanted to explain the 60’s to her, what that was and how that played out and how ‘White Rabbit’ not only talked about drugs and the drug culture, but how the song itself emulated a drug experience, probably better than any other, including Lou Reed’s ‘Heroin’, most importantly: not because of the lyrics, but because it totally ignored traditional pop-song chorus-and-verse structure, using neither of each, much less a bridge, or an ‘outro’, just one long crescendo that will have to end sometime sooner or later, just like the lysergic acid experience itself, finally reaffirming itself and life, too, in its final parting breath, till death do us part; it was a long night…