It’s a pretty good rock & roll album illustrating all the various strengths and weaknesses of this latest model ‘Plane. As a live concert album (recorded last year in San Francisco and Chicago) it compares favorably with Bless Its Pointed Little Head, the ‘Planes four-year-old previous recorded gig and one of the most understated and successful live albums of the Sixties. Of course long gone are Marty Balin, whose energetic vocalizing was once this band’s most vital sign of life, and drummer Spencer Dryden, whose speed and puissance was often the backbone of the more thrilling Airplane sets. Their replacements, David Freiberg and John Barbata respectively, do their jobs adequately and without any panache whatsoever.
So what’s to be said for Thirty Seconds over Winterland? Jack and Jorma are still one of the toughest lead-bass units to be heard in rock, and their taut and airy jammery is topped by John Creach’s shrieking amplified fiddle, one of the more original and viscera-churning noises to grace improvisatory pop music. When the three of these get off a solid 11 minute jam-“Feel So Good” on the A side of this LP-it almost justifies the presence of several of Paul Kantner’s sub-visionary science fiction ditties; difficult to listen to and impossible to believe in.
As for vocalist Gracie Slick, now the grande doyenne of rockdom; she don’t work as hard as she used to, and the rumored and much-whispered-about onstage displays of the Slick pudendum aren’t sufficient substitute for the skill with which she used to use her vocal chords as a motivator instrument, weaving over and between Balin and Jorma like an inspired siren. Listen to “It’s No Secret” on Pointed Head and pine for the old days, now vanished and seemingly forgotten: The only vestige of the old Airplane repertoire on Winterland is a good version of the haunting “Crown Of Creation.” And in the bridge of that tune, where Grace and Paul harmonize “In loyalty to their kind/They cannot tolerate our mind,” Grace remarks in an aside, “I can’t either.” We’re all growing a little older.