Talk as fans met up at the various watering holes and hotels of Bilston was of the gridlocked traffic and appalling weather conditions which made for a nightmare drive for everybody to tonight's gig. It was a shame that people weren't in the best of moods, as this looks like a great venue.
There was a dance floor at the front of the auditorium for those who like to boogie on down, and a seating area for aged hippies like myself.
No, actually, I was videotaping the whole thing and had a great vantage point from which to do it.
Support act, Derrin Nauendorf (catchy name!), didn't do much for me. OK, he was a fine acoustic guitarist and to attempt Voodoo Child segueing into Are You Experienced? takes some bottle, but it seemed to be too much thrash and not a lot of finesse for my liking.
Nerves were further frayed when the DJ announced that the band would be on at 9.10pm, and the band didn't actually start until about 9.30. Finally all the anxiety was over as the band launched into a stirring version of 'Have You Seen The Saucers?' The usual opener on other dates, 'St Charles' was next.
This number is from a later period than their psychedelic heyday, but is one of the high points, at least of the more straightforward rock songs. Marty obviously enjoys the "little old country toon" 'Count On Me' judging by the number of times it has been featured on the tour. One less featured number was 'Darkly Smiling' which actually goes back to the Great Society days of 1966. Then it was 'Teaching The Computers To Dream' the new song getting its debut on this tour, followed by the show-stopping 'Silver Spoon.'
This song, from the Kantner-Slick Sunfighter album was an epic I never expected to see performed live, and Diana Mangano far exceeds expectations with her performance on this. She actually outdoes Grace Slick; hard to imagine, but just ask anyone who was there.
Marty then took the limelight with 'Miracles,' 'Hearts' and 'Only One You' (in response to a request from the highly knowledgeable Graham Shanks, one of the all-time great supporters of all things Jeffersonian). Then things got a bit psychedelic with 'Have You Seen The Stars Tonight->Starship' and 'Across The Board' We were then subjected to a bit of humour as Prairie's monitor broke down. Prairie (lighheartedly) threatened to quit, the sound man, Michael Eisenstein said he couldn't fix it, and Paul moaned that he had to do everything.
Paul filled in the time rapping about alcoholics, winding up Jack Casady and going to the bathroom, not necessarily in that order. Things finally got back on track with 'JPP McStep B Blues' a very early Airplane song that only made it onto the 'Early Flights' collection of rarities years after it was originally recorded.
The set proper was rounded off by 'Ride The Tiger' and 'She Has Funny Cars,' but they were soon back on for Marty's solo spot 'Coming Back To Me' then everyone for 'Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil' (with the brief reprise of Teaching the Computers To Dream, that has featured on this song on several dates), followed by 'White Rabbit' and 'Volunteers.'
'Ballad' has been the instrumental workout of the tour, with Slick Aguilar usually getting a namecheck if a suitably quiet point occurs during his soloing.
The whole band seems to have gone up a gear on this tour and Slick displays greater confidence, prowling across the stage, as opposed to his more static performance in 2000. He has a massive task on his hands as he has to sound at times like Kaukonen, others like Garcia, and yet others like Craig Chaquico.
That's a tall order and he carries it off supremely well and even asserts some of his own individuality as well.
Thanks to Jelly for providing the set list and a few other memory joggers in this article.
Words - Doctor Dark - November 2002