A Fantasy for New Year - Part 3: The Night

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Posted by Keith E Rice on 01/02/02 - 09:20:18
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It was nearly 9:15 PM. The light was fading fast now; but still there was a trickle of newcomers joining the far edges of the throng which had now effectively engulfed the food wagons and other vending stalls.

The stage had been quiet for nearly 20 minutes apart from 5 minutes of a computer-generated dragon chasing its tail throught a swirl of garish psychedelic blobs and bubbles on the gigantic video screen immediately at the back of the stage. Clearly visible across the entire site, this had brought a series of "oohs" and "aahs" from sections of the crowd.

Jorma Kaukonen, Michael Falzarano, Jack Casady and Harvery Sorgen came onstage and began setting up. Then Grace Slick came out with a small, bearded old man. He walked a  little unsteadily and she offered him her arm for support.

When they got to the mikes, a spotlight opened up on them. Grace said, "Hi, folks. I'd like to introduce you to a very special friend of mine...He played the drums for us like a dream. The greatest!...Mr Spencer Dryden!...Ol' Lather himself."

There was a second or two of stunned silence; then various people in the crowd started whooping and hollering, others picked it up and it grew into a wave of sound that seemed to engulf the night air.

Grace waited for the sound to die, then said: "Spencer's not up to playing the drums for us tonight, but he does have a few words to say."

Dryden took the mike and said, "It's a real thrill to be here tonight - to see that the guys can finally put aside their differences long enough to play some great music today. Hasn't this been great? Really something?"

The audience shouted back in the affirmative, with more whooping and hollering.

Spencer continued: "Well, this old crock's gonna get off the stage now and let the guys get on with it. I say: 'Hot Fucking Tuna!' What do you say?"

"Hot Fucking Tuna!" roared back.

On cue, the stage was bathed in light as Jorma's guitar wailed out the intro to "Sea Child". The rest of the band came in, the stage lights dimmed and the dragon began romping through the blobs and bubbles again on the gigantic screen. With close-ups of Jorma singing on the smaller video screens at either side of the stage, it made quite an awesome effect.

The audience showed their appreciationg for both music and lights at the number's close.

After "Sea Child" came "Hit Single #1"and "Ode To Billy Dean".

Then Jorma said, "Pete's going to join us now....This next one's for Poppa John."

The number was "Let us Get Together". Michael - and an unannounced Joey Covington (also playing congas) at the back - supplied backing vocals while Sears recreated Creach's part on trumpet-synth.

At the number's conclusion, Jorma called back to Covington: "Hey, Joey, why don't you come forward.

As Joey joined him on the front line, Jorma told the audience: "This guy is what they call an erratic genius. He took five minutes of a Hot Tuna jam with Carlos Santana and turned it into a hit single for the Airplane. How about that?"

"But," Covington pretended to protest, "we can't do it without Grace, and she's already said she won't sing."

"That's no problem. I have a new friend - that's if I can get her away from that Mickey fellow....Hey, Darby!" Jorma called out.

In response, Darby skipped out onto the stage in yet another dress that was, if anything, shorter than the previous two.

"Jesus!" eclaimed Joey half-under his breath, but loud enough for the mike to pick up.

He composed himself, brought his congas to the front and, with Sears now playing third guitar, they performed "Pretty As You Feel". Behind them the giant screen became a flowing montage of black and white images of old-time blues and jazz musicians.

"Thanks, Joey," Jorma said as the crowd roared their approval. Covington left the stage and Sears returned to the keyboards for "It's So Easy", with Darby and Jorma again sharing a mike.

At the end of the number, Harvey Sorgen - followed a brief introduction from Michael -was replaced by Prairie Prince and Paul Kantner then came on to replace Falzarano who introduced offstage by Jorma.

A screeching fuzzed chord from Kaukonen started "Lawman", with Darby snarling out the lyrics a la Slick and Pete providing a low synth counterpoint to the whining guitars and bass.

Marty then joined the band for an energetic "Young Girl Sunday Blues," followed by a tour-de-force "Have You Seen The Saucers" - with Freiberg once more adding an additional harmony from the rear.

"Let's calm things down a little now," Jorma said by way of introducing a very electric yet enchantingly-lilting "Good Shepherd" - on which Kaukonen picked and Sears played slide.

The tone was kept at a lower tempo with "Planes" - Freiberg again helping out; but his harmony was a little off, suggesting he didn't know the number that well - and "Ice Cream Phoenix".

Darby then left the stage to tremendous applause and Jorma shouting after her: "Just remember, honey, if Kantner won't give you a job..."

Diana came onstage and was greeted, at Paul's urging, with loud applause.

"This next one's a long number," Jorma announced. "I guess that's just the way Kantner writes them, but my fingers are hurtin' - so I'm gonna call up a little help here."

With that Craig Chaquico and Slick Aguilar came onstage and plugged in. The band then chugged off into "The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil" - during which Jack played a lengthy bass solo and all three guitarists took turns at lead. The light show for this number was pure psychedelia.

When this lengthy spectacular ended, the audience went wild, many of them on their feet.

As the applause receded, Jorma left the stage, saying, "I'm going to take a break now. I'll see you later."

Almost immediately, the band moved into "Today", with Marty almost sobbing the words to wrench every last emotion out of them and Slick and Craig delicately picking their way around each other and the melody while Pete played sustained notes on his accordion.

It was so well done, the audience were almost as enthusiastic as they had been for "Pooneil".

As the audience clapped and cheered, Jack unshouldered his bass and said something to Marty who turned to the mike and said, "Oh, God's complaining his fingers hurt now. Good night, Jack!"

Casady waved to the audience and left.

"Pete, you'll have to do it," Paul said into his mike, with what appeared to be mock weariness. "Chris, can we have you on stage, please."

Sears plugged in a bass as Chris Smith took his place as the keyboards. Then the band drove into "Sweeter Than Honey", with Marty tearing out the words and Slick chopping behind Craig's up-scale fills.

The crowd showed their appreciation noisily while Paul and Diana tired to quieten them down - Paul: "Shush! You gotta be quiet for this one. It's  a dream song."

As the crowd finally quieted, Craig's guitar called out repeatedly like a seagull, then Kantner and Aguilar came in and the the vocalists - with Frieberg and Covington at the rear - sang: "Let me tell you about a dream." "St Charles" was arguably the greatest highlight of a day full of highlights, moving from the gently-lilting through to medium-tempo to the positively-manic, with Sears' frenetic bass driving Chaquico and Aguilar faster and faster. During the more intense moments, the big screen at the rear was filled with scenes from the movie, "JASON & THE ARGONAUTS" morphed with images of Diana in near-translucent robes.

As the audience roared, whooped and hollered their appreciation, Prairie Prince was caught on the large video screens saying something to Chris Smith that looked a lot like: "Shit, man, I'm fucked!"

Marty then said to the audience; "Jorma told you Joey's a genius. I don't know about that. I do know he helped me write this song." He brought Covington to the front and said, "'With Your Love'."

The band were a little less surefooted with this one, Craig improvising a totally different (and fairly-uninspiring) solo to the recorded version. However, Marty made a great show of  having Covington sing on the choruses with him. (Freiberg was left at the back of the stage.)

At the end of the number, Freiberg and Covington left the stage, to be followed by Chaquico and Sears.

"Oh, Pete's fingers hurt now!" Balin quipped as Pete walked off. "Those Tuna boys just can't cope with long sets!"

(In the wings, Jorma Kaukonen reputedly sneered: "Fuck you!" at one of the video screens.)

"Ladies and gentlemen," Kantner announced: "I'd like to introduce you to the newest member of our band and a great bass player...Tom Lilly."

Lilly walked out and began setting up while Diana, Paul and Marty engaged in some off-mike conversation.

With Tom ready, the band launched into "Shadowlands" - a particularly passionate delivery by Paul and Diana - which they segued into "The Light".

Although many of the audience appeared unfamiliar with these numbers, the enthusiasm of the delivery won a postive response.

By this time, Prairie Prince was looking decidedly the worse for wear. He called Diana over, they talked briefly and then she went to Paul. He listened a moment or two, then said: "Looks like we're wearing a few folks out today. Prairie's had enough for the moment, so he's gonna take a break. Fortunately, we have a great drummer here who sits in for Prairie sometimes. Trey Sabbatelli, now is your time."

Looking somewhat relieved, Prairie got up from behind the drumstool, kissed Diana, shook hands with Sabbatelli and left the stage. The crowd showed their appreciaton of the sometimes-Tubes drummer with a healthy round of applause.

The band worked Trey in with an easy reading of "Goddess" - with Covington popping congas at the back of the stage. Again, lack of familiarity with the material meant a less than total response from the audience.

Paul said: "If you ever heard 'SUNFIGHTER', you'll know this one." Then he turned and shouted to the wings: "Jorma, can we borrow Michael? Michael, can you bring your mandolin?"

A minute or so later, Falzarano emerged and plugged in. From the opening moments of "When I Was A Boy I Watched The Wolves", there were gasps of recognition from the audience - and Falzarano perfectly recreated Peter Kaukonen's mandolin part.

Next up was "Sketches Of China" - a surefire crowd-pleaser on which Kantner got Frieberg to the front of the stage to sing; "It ain't what you want, it's what you nee-heed."

"Greasy Heart" coming next had many in the audience on their feet again.

"Time for the Airplane again, I guess," Marty mumbled into the mike as Tom Lilly and Chris Smith left the stage and Jorma, Jack and Sears returned.

When everyone was set up, Sabbatelli counted the band into the explosive opening of "It's No Secret" - a somewhat rushed delivery that nonetheless had the crowd screaming for more.

On "3/5 of A Mile In 10 Seconds", Diana and Marty danced a kind of jitterbug while Aguilar and Kaukonen traded licks in a lengthy instrumental mid-section.

Then Balin and Mangano left the stage - the former looking really exhausted.

Paul intoned: "The cops say they reckon there's been twenty-two thousand people in the park today. You all still out there?"

A ragged chorus of "yeahs", whoops and hollers came back in response.

Paul continued: "The cops also say we have to finish at midnight 'cause that's what's on the permit. Me, I say, 'Fuck the cops!' What do you say?"

"FUCK THE COPS!" was the predictable response.

Jorma raised his eyebrows to Jack and said into his mike: "Shall we get on with it, Ace?"

Kantner shrugged and Kaukonen picked out the opening bars of "Trial By Fire". It was a slow, chugging delivery with Pete's synth once again playing the lines John Creach had done back in the 70s and Slick and Kantner playing slow chords behind Kaukonen's half-picking/half-single note leads. Sabatelli's drumming was surprisingly restrained, indicating his lack of familiarity with the tune.

At the conclusion, Marty and Diana returned, bringing with them Mickey Thomas and Craig Chaquico.

"We're going to leave you with this," Marty told the audience to several waves of groans from the crowd. "And Mickey's going to sing with Diana. It's been a great night - a great day! Thank you!"

With that, the band powered into "Somebody To Love" - with Diana and Mickey alternating lines in early 80s Jefferson Starship fashion - and Marty "oh-oh" scat singing at the tail of each chorus. At the end, each guitarist took it in turn to solo while the rear of the stage was filled by Prairie Prince, David Freiberg, Graham Nash, Bob Weir, Darby Gould, Bill Thompson, Joey Covington, Alex Kantner, China Kantner, Gary Duncan, Bill Laudner, Al Schmitt, Sammy Piazza, Harvey Sorgen, Vanessa Kaukonen, Michael Gaiman, Brett Bloomfield, Mark Morgan, Mickey Hart, David Laflamme, Linda LaFlamme, Tom Lilly, Chris Smith and Darryl Verdusco clapping them on. Meanwhile the light show showed a garishly miscoloured loop of the Airplane perfroming the number on "The Ed Sullivan Show" back in 67.

As "Somebody To Love" finally ground to a screeching, metallic halt, Grace Slick appeared and read out the names of all the musicians who had contributed to the day - almost inaudible above the roaring, cheering and clapping of the crowd.

As the musicians and their associates picked their way off the stage, Grace finally made herself heard above the noise of the crowd: "...course, if you make enough noise, you know they'll come back and they'll have to do 'White Rabbit'."

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