David LaFlamme - violin, vocals; Linda Baker LaFlamme - vocals; Hal Wagenet - guitar, vocals; Val Fuentes- drums; Larry Blackshere - keyboards; Mitchell Holman - bass, vocals; Guest:; Bruce Steinberg - harmonica
It's A Beautiful Day's self-titled debut album has long been a staple of the 1960s San Francisco sound. During the late 1960s, being unique in the diverse musical melting pot of San Francisco was not an easy accomplishment, but the group's virtuosity made their live performances some of the most memorable of the era. Incorporating elements of folk, jazz, rock and classical music, It's A Beautiful Day clearly stood out. David LaFlamme and Patti Santos' vocal blend and the bands orchestral approach to arrangements, including using the violin as a primary lead instrument, gained them a large following among listeners looking for music outside the scope of the San Francisco dance hall jam bands. With a more progressive sound than their contemporaries and the ability to play anything from psychedelic music to straight ahead heavy rock, the group became a huge draw in the Bay Area during the late 1960s, which led to national touring well into the 1970s.
Although the group disbanded in 1974, David and Linda Baker LaFlamme would continue performing the group's music well into the 1980s as members of the David LaFlamme Band. Various configurations of the band would also occasionally regroup for special occasions (under various permutations of the name), with the consistent ingredients most often being the LaFlammes and drummer Val Fuentes. Due to complications involving their former manager, Matthew Katz, being sole owner of the group's trademark and name, they were legally restricted from performing as It's A Beautiful Day until two decades had passed, when they won the temporary ability during a brief lapse in Katz's trademark renewal. This court judgment in the band's favor would expire in 1998, just weeks after the concert presented here.
Headlining a triple bill that also featured Cold Blood and Country Joe McDonald (both the Cold Blood and Country Joe McDonald sets are available at Wolfgang's), this would be the last concert It's A Beautiful Day would play under their own name in San Francisco. Perhaps knowing this would be their last opportunity to celebrate their music before a hometown audience, all of the surviving founding members would reunite for this special occasion at the reopened Fillmore Auditorium. As had been the case for years, Linda LaFlamme would fill the formidable shoes of former co-lead vocalist, Patty Santos (who was tragically killed in a automobile accident in 1989) and Larry Blackshere augments the lineup on keyboards. Otherwise, all of the founding members are represented in addition to their friend, artist and photographer Bruce Steinberg, who contributes his distinctive harmonica to this performance, just as he did on their first two albums.
Its A Beautiful Day was always admired for the way they could stretch out familiar songs in live performance, often reinventing them in the process. This recording is not only another prime example of that ability, but with such an emphasis on debut album material (which is performed in it's entirety over the course of this lengthy set!), this set is sure to delight longtime followers and newcomers alike. Occurring three decades since the group's earliest gigs in this same venue, the unique chemistry of the founding band members is still very much intact. The tonality of Blackshere's modern keyboard rig is the only real giveaway of so much time having passed and although that factor is occasionally jarring, his musicianship is undeniable.
Following their introduction, the group eases into their set with the hypnotic and eerie "Bulgaria," perhaps the most esoteric composition from the debut album. This begins with an instrumental prelude sequence of several minutes, featuring LaFlamme on violin, before the vocal begins and these musicians flow through diverse stylistic changes. They follow with another classic from their debut album, "Wasted Union Blues." This features impressive solos from LaFlamme and Blackshere individually, before culminating in a jam that showcases the chemistry between LaFlamme and original lead guitarist Hal Wagenet. Both of these opening numbers are remarkable performances played with originality and enthusiasm, but are mere warmup exercises compared with all the music still yet to come.
LaFlamme next humorously ruminates on the band's legendary legal hassles, before introducing "Pick Up Sticks," a number written in 1973 just prior to the breakup. This is a somewhat lackluster performance, but the group begins truly hitting their stride on the next number, "Hot Summer Day." An FM radio staple from their debut album, this breezy and familiar song is the first of the night to include Bruce Steinberg, whose harmonica work greatly enhanced the original studio recording. Bass player Mitchell Holman fronts the group next on his own rocker, "Wasn't I Good," followed by a triple whammy of back to back songs sourced from the debut album. This sequence is the centerpiece of this performance, beginning with "Bombay Calling," another of the group's most adventurous and challenging compositions. They continue with "Girl With No Eyes" and capped it off with their signature song -- the ethereal "White Bird." These latter two numbers are performed with great sensitivity here, particularly "White Bird," which features lovely guitar work from Wagenet and the entire group sounding confident and strong. Despite three decades having passed since the original studio recording, this performance of "White Bird" makes it crystal clear what initially captivated so many listeners.
Up next is the standout track from the group's second album -- the high velocity instrumental "Don & Dewey." This piece was written as a tribute to the R&B duo of the same name that featured Don "Sugarcane" Harris on violin, who would redefine the instrument in the late 60s by bringing it to a heavy rock and blues context. Drummer Val Fuentes kicks off this aggressive performance, which spotlights LaFlamme's violin virtuosity, while he and Wagonet trade fiery licks. This is a thoroughly engaged performance, with nearly everyone getting a chance to solo, including Steinberg, who even gets an opportunity to lead the band for awhile. Steinberg is also a key ingredient on the setcloser, "Going On Down The Road." Just as compelling as the best of their early catalogue, this number will be a surprising delight to longtime fans, as this unreleased song has rarely been heard and unfortunately never made it to an album.
The hometown audience isn't quite ready to let the band go and clamor for an encore. It's A Beautiful Day return to the stage and bid San Francisco a fond farewell with the only remaining composition from their first album yet to be tackled, "Time Is." This gradually builds into a wild, tumultuous jam featuring frenzied violin from LaFlamme and the original group firing it up one last time to great effect. Although various configurations would occasionally perform together, this would be the final time the original configuration of It's A Beautiful Day would ever share a stage together. (Bershaw)