Paul Kantner - rhythm guitar, vocals; Mickey Thomas - vocals; David Freiberg - vocals, keyboards; Craig Chaquico - lead guitar; Pete Sears - bass guitar, keyboards; Aynsley Dunbar - drums
(Early Show) The Jefferson Starship's 1979 album title, Freedom At Point Zero was an apt description for where the group stood at the end of the decade. With the departure of Marty Balin and Grace Slick, Paul Kantner remained the sole remaining mainstay of the original Jefferson Airplane. Without Balin's romantic songwriting and charismatic stage presence and Slick's sardonic wit and sense of drama, not to mention their highly distinctive vocals, the band was forced to develop a new personality. This presented both opportunities and challenges that would dramatically change the sound of the band. To add to the challenges they faced, drummer Johnny Barbata was injured in a car accident. The extraordinary English drummer, Aynsley Dunbar, was brought in as his replacement. Having honed his skills with Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa and Journey prior to joining Jefferson Starship, Dunbar became another key element in the musician's move toward a harder arena-rock sound. The vocal shift was just as dramatic, as the band recruited former Elvin Bishop Group vocalist, Mickey Thomas, to help fill the massive void left by Balin and Slick. Thomas' soaring falsetto also steered the band toward a more mainstream corporate rock sound. The combination of Thomas' falsetto and Dunbar's drumming, along with a shift in songwriting responsibilities to Chaquico and Sears, led to a sound that was savaged by the critics and left many of their long time supporters behind. The band was clearly heading in a more mainstream direction, but with the introduction of MTV right around the corner, the new music Jefferson Starship created would soon capture the attention of a new generation of fans. At the dawn of the new decade, these new elements were firmly in place and the group celebrated by performing a series of concerts before intimate home town crowds at X's, a new wave disco in the North Beach section of San Francisco. With a capacity of approximately 500, this was the most intimate venue the group had performed in for years. After a warm-up show on 12/30/79, two shows were presented on New Years Eve and both were simulcast; one for the East Coast and one for the West Coast.
The early show is the longer of the two performances on this night and features the material from the Freedom At Point Zero album nearly in its entirety, as well as several choice Airplane/Starship classics thrown in for good measure. The first four songs focus on Kantner's songwriting and from the opening song, "Ride The Tiger," one can tell this is a new energized rock band with a new sense of mission. The "Girl With The Hungry Eyes" that follows embraces the new wave that was becoming increasingly popular, before the group sinks its teeth into a double dose of Airplane-era classics, "Have You Seen The Saucers" and "Wooden Ships," the latter with an entirely new a cappella intro that showcases the new vocal blend within the group.
With the exception of a sneak preview of Pete Sears' "Stranger," which would eventually appear on the Starship's 1981 album, Modern Times, and "Somebody To Love," with Mickey Thomas taking lead vocal duties and the band tossing in an instrumental nod to The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," they focus exclusively on Freedom At Point Zero material for the next hour. Fans of this album will be delighted, as all these songs have greater energy than their studio counterparts and the band are obviously having a fine time performing them before such an intimate and responsive audience. "Jane," the band's classic AOR hit, with its screeching lead vocals and guitar, crunchy chord changes and reggae-flavored bridge, kicks off this sequence, magnifying the shifting power within the band. As it was 9:00 p.m. West Coast time, this precedes a Happy New Year shout-out to the East Coast radio listeners, before they dive in to the afore-mentioned "Stranger," a new song yet to be recorded. Two songs each of the primary songwriter's contributions to Freedom At Point Zero are next included. Kantner delivers the title track as well as "Lightning Rose," one of his iconic female figure songs that manages to merge his science fiction fixations with a declaration of love, which seems to be partially inspired by his relationship with Grace Slick. Pete Sears' contributions to the album are showcased with back-to-back performances of "Awakening" and "Fading Lady Light" and Craig Chaquico struts his stuff on "Just The Same" and the single he penned for the band, "Rock Music," an accessible good time sing-a-long number.
After wrapping up the new album material, they conclude the East Coast celebration with "Light The Sky On Fire," a relatively rare song, featured in a "Star Wars" holiday special and as the b-side of the "Hyperdrive" single, followed by the high energy Spitfire track, "Dance With The Dragon" to close the early show. After a break to rejuvenate, they would return to the stage and begin the West Coast celebration (also available here at Wolfgang's).