London Borderline, October 19 2012
Bugger me, it's cramped in here. Not surprising really, considering the venue only holds 275 people and JS, even at this late and unheralded stage in their career, are still something of a draw. Well, at this level anyway.
The departure in the early 00s of Marty Balin left head honcho Paul Kantner holding the baby, dragging a talented yet credibility-lacking troupe around the world to slowly diminishing audiences: since the return of David Freiberg in 2004, however, things have been once more on the up, and the arrival of Kathy Richardson in the 'Slick role' vacated by Diana Mangano has added extra boost to the 'Ship's once floundering cruise control. I've never, admittedly, seen a show of theirs I didn't enjoy, but there's a renewed zest and, above all, crunch to the proceedings these days that was starting to disappear seven or eight years ago, from the bouncing paws of opener 'Ride The Tiger' to the janglier, dreamier classic late Haight sound of 'Miracles' and 'Count On Me'.
For the first time in years, Kantner looks happy to actually be onstage, his back problems appear to have dissipated, he's almost as trim as he was in his 40s, and more than anything else, dapper in his neat black threads in a manner that belies his 71 years, with a renewed vocal power on 'Crown Of Creation' and a 17- minute full-on-freakout 'Ballad Of You Me And Pooneil' that, were it not for the overlong drum solo, could have transported the Borderline crowd telepathically back to the Fillmore. Freiberg, now 74, is even more of a revelation, although with his rotund frame and glasses he does bear a resemblance to a psychedelic Margaret Rutherford. His vocals on the little aired 'Harp Tree Lament', from 1971's much-underappreciated Baron Von Tollbooth And The Chrome Nun album, are astounding, but the greatest surprises come in the form of later, harder rock material such as 'Jane' and 'Find Your Way Back' - tunes which were outlawed from even the promotional material when I worked with them, so ashamed were they of their later AOR leanings until, presumably, the recent reappraisal of the genre forced them to take stock.
That said, I wouldn't in any way wish them to go down the post-ironic path blazed by the irksome, abhorrent likes of Glee, a road of ignominy which would inevitably result in them performing certain songs we have no desire to see again - yes, you know the ones- but it's nice to see other tunes most Shindiggers would have once run screaming in the opposite direction from suddenly fitting so snugly alongside their older counterparts. And it's on the vintage numbers- not just the predictable 'Somebody To Love' but a strident run through Quicksilver's 'Fresh Air', that Richardson comes into her own, becoming a great rock frontwoman rather than just a slick Slick imitator. By the time we get to 'White Rabbit', she's leaning into the first two rows (which, as anyone who's been to the Borderline will tell you, are pretty damn close to the stage) intimidating the poor hapless souls who dare to get too close. Personally, considering the remarkable resemblance she bears to Linda Hayden circa 1975, I wouldn't mind - especially with that voice. I could have done without the Sheryl Crow-esque solo material in the middle though- and with Kantner absent from the stage at the time presumably taking a quick widdle, it's the one moment where it bears too much uncomfortable resemblance to a tribute show. Although to whom I'm not sure...
It's been a long time since the Airplane crashed and the Starship took off, and its subsequent trajectory has veered into many strange universes: it may never again scale the stratospheric heights of exploration reached in the early to mid 70s, when several new worlds were discovered over the course of seven new albums, and it probably never set its sights on ending up on a grand tour of intimate UK clubs, but somewhere along the way, they discovered a distant satellite, colonised it and built a fortress- and, if you're lucky, they'll invite you in sporadically for a burn round the corridors. Decline at your peril, the offers won't keep coming forever.
Darius Drewe Shimon
Darius Drewe Shimon