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July 14, 1976 - Image 6

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1976-07-14

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Page Six Wednesday, July 14, 1976
Arts & Entertanm ent THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Jefferson Starship:
A live an d cooking

By KURT HARJU
LAST YEAR the Jefferson Starship man-
ity with Red Octopus, one of the most popu-
lar releases of 1975. This year, the group
has tied itself even more firmly into the
rock market with its new release, Spitfire
(Grunt BFL-1557).
Spitfire is one of those rare albums that
wotrks on almost every level to attract a
potential buyer. Effective artwork arouses the
original interest and is joined by even more
captivating music - the best to emerge from
the Airplane-Starship axis in a long time. It's
packed with powerful, intensely energetic
songs whose catchy choruses sweep over fan-
tastic guitar solos and really get your feet
moving.
Unlike Red Octopus, where Marty Balin
got most of the credit for the hit, "Miracles,"
and most of the praise for the entire LP,
Spitfire is a strangely collaborative affair
with no less than five people penning the
album's two outstanding numbers, "Dance
With the Dragon" and "St. Charles." In fact,
Balin does very little composing on this ef-
fort beyond those two tunes; but he more
than compensates by singing great lead vo-
cals on "Cruisin' " and two songs set in the
"Miracles" mold and mood - "With Your
Love" and "Love Lovely Love."
With Grace Slick's "Hot Water" and
"Switchblade"" and Paul Kanter's two-part
"Song To The Sun" taken into account, the
picture that emerges out of these sessions
is one of a group whose time has come
again and whose momentum is starting to
peak along with the country's spirits in this
unusual election-Bicentennial year. Noth-
ing underscored this impression more than
the LP's release just a few days before the
4th of July when, within hours, the jubilant
music was filling the airways and giving peo-
ple something else to celebrate.
TIE ONLY THROW-AWAY, less than ex-
cellent song on the album is "Big City,"
sung by drummer John Barbata. But even
that is saved by the soaring harmonies that
Balin, Slick and Kanter used to make the

main feature of early Airplane songs. Now
every new song is given a full vocal treat-
ment. The atmosphere is contagious and pret-
ty soon you're likely to be humming along
with lyrics you don't even know yet.
But lyrics are probably the least important
aspect of this work - a definite change of
emphasis for a group which has, in its songs,
covered everything from revolution to science
fiction stories. The concept of love is once
more the focal point, as in Red Octopus, but
somehow you don't get tired of lines like:
St. Charles sing-
Tell me about love
from "St. Charles," or
I know it's true
I've got the feeling too
Why don't you take it
Whatever you want from me
I'm in the mood.
from "Love Lovely Love." These songs are
effectively put across by some of the most
imaginative vocals to result from any group
- and an old one at that - in quite a
while.
WITH THE WORDS making more musical
and less literal emphasis, the load falls
on the shoulders of the Starship's instru-
mentalists, who wield it with nothing less
than true finesse. Guitarist Craig Chaquico
surpasses Jorma Kaukonen's contributions to
the Airplane-Starship tradition on this album
by providing some of the tightest and quick-
est licks to ever grace a pulsating beat. Pete
Sears and David Freiberg on bass and key-
notes fill the part Jack Cassidy used to play,
and both do a fine job.
On the album Dragon Fly, Paul Kanter
made a prediction during the song "Ride The
Tiger" to the effect that everything was go-
ing to come alive in the summer of '75.
It was vaguely disappointing when nothing
did. But, in retrospect, maybe Kanter was
ultimately right, and in a way he never
meant - the Starship was reborn that sum-
mer, and now it's grown into a gifted child.

Jeffrey Selbst
J (ftte4:Rock opera-
on PTP
NCE AGAIN it's time for some ruby-throated warblings from
your correspondent. This columnist has come out against
various impure and "grafted," as it were, forms of entertainment,
such as dinner theater. Now there is a new, better reason to
crab, and that is "rock opera." I had the misfortune of viewing
that (by now) old bore Jesus Christ Superstar at Power Center
last week, and, though I was completely disgusted with the pro-
duction itself, it provided me with an occasion to think about the
pretensions of "rock opera," or at least how the form is handled
now.
Rock opera is an abomination, only because it assumes too
much. An opera, as composed by Richard Strauss, or Puccini, or
even Bizet, assumes nothing on the part of the viewer. This is not
by any means intended to say that rock opera is too intellictual a
form, rather that it is anti-intellectual.
There isn't even the hint of sustained narrative in either of
rock opera's two most famous examples, Tommy and Superstar.
The audience is left with great big holes, to be interpreted by
whomever happens to be at the helm of the production.
That's what allows directors like Ken Russell to make hash
of a story, as he did with the inimitable film version of Tommy.
Whose viewpoint is being expressed in Superstar? Do we ever
know?
For various reasons, opera consists of aria, chorus and recita-
tive (or integrated aria-chorus-recitative, as in Wagner). One
reason is so that the audience can be clued in to the action via
the direct medium of the music. When a score consists of barely
connected numbers, then you haven't got opera, you have rock
musicals without dialogue. There is an incredible lack of con-
nection that's simply too evident in the score. This reflects upon
the cohesion of the piece as theater.
Why is this? Well, principally because rock musicians are used
to thinking in terms of "cuts," perhaps loosely-connected, yet still
individual pieces. (I can hear you already. "What about the
Magic Flute? That's done in terms of set numbers." Yes, but the
Magic Flute is not opera per se, it is Singspiel, or what passed in
the Austria of 1791 for what we call musical comedy. End of
argument.)
Well, Tommy and Superstar were both albums before pro-
ductions, and an album doth not an opera make. Someone has to
stage it, someone direct it. There must be a presiding concept.
Certainly one could conceivably write one's own story line to
hundreds of recent rock albums, and pass them off as operas,
but what of Tommy? Why is it an opera? Could anyone buying
the album as I did myself years ago, even fathom what the
story line was all about? This isn't opera, it's a fourth-grade
Thanksgiving pageant.
And get off my back. There is nothing wrong with modern
theater, nor is there anything the least bit wrong with rock.
There is something desperately wrong with presumption. There is
certainly something wrong with an audience so eager to indulge
in the rituals of "culture" that they, insecurely, dub what may
be very good rock an "opera" and flock to see it, all the while
congratulating themselves on their artistic appreciation. (Remind-
ing one of the immortal, pathetic line Walt Disney spoke on the
eve of the release of his film Fantasia: "Why, this will make
Beethoven!")
Remember, pseudo-entertainers will treat us like children if
we insist on acting like it. (I expect my usual onslaught of
murderous letters for that one.)
BY THE WAY, wafting about the lobby of Power at the opening
of Superstar, I was approached by many PTP people who told
me that they were distressed at my column last Friday.
They told me that I had somehow "misinterpreted" their odious
and (even for them) antagonistic policy put into effect last week.
We bought our own tickets for Superstar, and though we will not
be able to afford tickets to the rest of the Rep season, some
reviewers have generously offered to pay their own way out of
pocket so that the students involved in the Rep season won't be
hurt by their putative leaders' irresponsibility.
Misinterpreted? I hardly think so. Scarcely has a gesture been
so obvious in its meaning, so direct in its insult and so devastating
in its consequenees. We won't even discuss the journalistic con-
sequences should we cave in to their monstrous demands on the
issue. We're simply talking about the fact that the Daily cannot,
financially, afford their prohibitively priced tickets and must
therefore review PTP only very occasionally. ("Oh, it's only a
little press release," they cluck, conveniently forgetting that the
Sudetenland was only a "little" bit of Czechoslavakia.)
With the PTP's penchant for absurdism, I'd like to see them
try their hand at a little lonesco. Probably they could do it
quite well

opera Tommy. Townshend is recognized as pri
portrayed the title role in the Ken Russell film.

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