I met up with friends a couple of hours before the gig, who had been on the Benelux leg of the tour. They warned me that despite low attendances the band was in top form.
After a nervous wait through the opening set by local band Sassafras, I soon saw what they meant. If you like top quality straightforward rock with some top quality jamming mixed in with quality set-piece guitar dueling, these are your boyos.
After a short intermission, Starship were on. The soundman had taken about 5 minutes to load up the table next to where Paul Kantner was to sit, with strange crystalline objects, seashells and other charms, and curious mandala-like cards were scattered about the stage, adding an air of mystery.
There was no mystery as the band took off with 'St. Charles' from the Spitfire album, straight into 'Wooden Ships' and straight from there into 'Somebody To Love' with hardly a gap in between for the audience to show their appreciation.
Then Diana Mangano brought the house down with a stunning version of 'Silver Spoon.' In the cold light of morning, just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine.
Then the emphasis shifted over to Marty again with 'Miracles', 'Hearts' and 'Today' three ballads to mellow out the middle of the set. Then the Starship moved into warp factor 10 with what is known among fans as the 'Blows Suite' - basically side 2 of the Blows Against The Empire album.
I suspected this would be difficult to bring off, as much of the suite's success depends on Garcia's shining, acidic guitar. But Slick Aguilar has grown in stature and confidence on this tour and his playing stands up as individually his, but capturing perfectly the feel of the original.
This was followed by 'Hyperdrive' a 'Plastic Fantastic Lover' that had all the feel of the 'Bless Its Pointed Little Head' version, a massively powerful 'White Rabbit' - Diana again being magnificent, and a (help I'm running out of superlatives!) stunningly psychedelic 'Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil,' Aguilar again producing a confident and very heavy display of guitar pyrotechnics, bouncing ideas about with Prairie Prince on drums who used this song as his opportunity to take the spotlight.
The set proper closed with 'Volunteers' and Marty whipped the crowd up with his impassioned cries of 'Fight Back! Fight Back!'
The band walked off, but Marty came back immediately to perform a superb solo rendering of 'Coming Back To Me', Chris Smith wafting gentle keyboard effects in from time to time to give the piece an ethereal sound.
Then the rest of the band came on for 'Crown Of Creation' and finally 'Other Side Of This Life' There was no more calling for more, as by this time the crowd had got what they came for: a band who after all these years still have the capacity to amaze and delight.
Phew! I've got another week of this; off to Milton Keynes now.....
Words - Doctor Dark - 27th October 2002