An incredible evening with Jefferson Starship at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City. What is Jefferson Starship like on tour in 2010? I will tell you all, but first, for those of you dear readers who do not know this Battle Born State, a word about Virginia City – forget Bonanza. Virginia City was never a cow town with broad dusty streets. It was a mountain top mining town -- the center of the Comstock Lode named for the successful speculator Henry T. Pancake Comstock who struck it rich in 1859, sold his claim, invested in stores in Carson and Silver City, purchased a Mormon wife who ran away, then prospected unsuccessfully in Idaho and Montana where he killed himself in 1870 – no relation to John Henry Comstock, the noted entomologist. For the truth – using the word in a loose literary sense – about Virginia City, better to consult their premier journalist, Mark Twain.
The Red Dog Saloon, an intimate setting along Virginia City’s wooden sidewalks, was filled with boomers tonight. It was the 60+ crowd out in force to hear our old music. A few young folks showed up out of respect I guess. But we were mostly a collection of people who had lived through the Viet Nam era and everything since – it showed on us I must admit.
After the opening act, Jefferson Starship took the small stage. Paul Kantner, David Krieberg, and Chris Smits – 3 old guys who still love their music, playing it now with a seasoned passion. Marty Balin was not around. And of course Gracie Slick has been gone from Starship since 1988 – and lest I go overboard let me acknowledge there is only one Gracie Slick – a pioneer rock singer who was once arrested for attempting to spike Richard Nixon’s punch with LSD. Awful of course, but you had to be there or at least be then. She was one of a kind and is now a painter in New York City.
Instead of Balin and Slick, the old guys were joined by an angular young woman named Cathy Richardson who could have been their granddaughter. But she was a bona fide super star. She wore a sun dress under a black hooded sweater which she put to remarkable use. It wasn’t just the powerful brassy voice that was nothing less than Grace Slick quality; she was a performer in the 1967 sense of the word. She shot her fist up toward the ceiling, sliced the air with her hands, fell to her knees, clapped, stomped, pounded the stage with the mike stand exuding a blend of passions born of that mad era of hope, anger, and desperate aspiration. At one point she turned away, pulled her hood over her head transforming her blondness into an eerie witchy darkness, then turned on us with a rendition of White Rabbit that chilled the blood at “Just ask Alice, when she’s 10 feet tall.” In the second set, she hammered us with Somebody to Love – an existential admonition to human connection.
The closing song of the encore took a surprising thematic turn for the top band of psychedelic rock. It was a medley of Songs of Freedom, Redemption Song, and Imagine. The lyrics of John Lennon’s atheist anthem were woven into the lyrics of Bob Marley, blended into a proclamation of faith in transcendent deliverance and an invitation to live boldly in the face of all the menaces to freedom, happiness, and life itself. John Lennon no doubt turned over in his grave, but I loved it.
All this on a Friday night in the Red Dog Saloon of Virginia City. I cannot believe this life I have been given.