John Cipollina - guitar, vocals; Gary Duncan - guitar, vocals; David Frieberg - bass, viola, vocals; Greg Elmore - drums; Guest: Steve Schuster, sax on Gold & Silver
Recorded at the tail end of 1967 on opening night of a three night Winterland run, presented here is Quicksilver Messenger Service prior to the release of their debut album. This is the classic Happy Trails era quartet lineup featuring the twin lead guitars of Gary Duncan and John Cipollina and the dynamic duo rhythm section of David Frieberg and Greg Elmore. For this run, which culminated in an all-star jam session on New Years Eve, QMS and Big Brother & the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin) were opening for rock 'n' roll pioneer Chuck Berry (Berry's set is also available here at Wolfgang's).
Poor quality audience recordings of this QMS set have circulated among collectors for decades, but presented here is Bill Graham's soundboard direct recording surfacing for the first time. Although incomplete, what is here is primal QMS at a most promising moment, shortly after the recording sessions, but prior to the release of their debut album. The band are clearly beginning to pursue more improvisational territory on stage, and though not as exploratory as they would become by the time of the Happy Trails performances, this recording captures an inspired band and a perfect example of the "San Francisco Sound" in all its early glory.
The set kicks of with what would become the signature song for this lineup, Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love." Not yet the 20-plus-minute opus that it would become within a year's time, here they compress the energy into a little over 10 minutes, but the sparks are flying continuously throughout. Most of the improvisational themes that Duncan and Cipollina would later explore within the context of this song surface here as well, but in fresher, seemingly more spontaneous form. The band is still discovering the improvisational potential and developing it live on stage with captivating results.
What follows takes things even farther out, as the group sails off into "Gold And Silver," the instrumental highlight of their first album. Inspired by the sound of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," here QMS explore similar territory, with a lengthy jam based on an infectious groove. All four musicians play superbly here and the collective improvisation remains captivating for the nearly 12-minute duration. This number displays the quartet lineup at its best, thanks largely to Cipollina and Duncan's distinctive and inventive guitar interplay. David Frieberg's thundering bass is also prominent here and following Elmore's drum solo midway; Steve Schuster, who adds sax to the mix, joins the band. This is an extraordinary performance that remains exhilarating for nearly 12 solid minutes before the tape stock ran out.
When the recording resumes, the group is winding up "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," one of the two electrified folk songs that QMS recorded for the Revolution movie soundtrack, prior to their first album. Likely due to time constraints, they close with two shorter songs; both concise performances in comparison to what preceded them. First is a nice gritty reading of Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues" followed by the romantic "It's Been Too Long," another highlight of their debut album.