Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Lovely Baths Of Baxter

It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon here in the Outer Richmond…a gentle translucent fog sunbathes on the pacific ocean...the breeze plays kind in the afternoon shine. The turntable revolves and “my head is feeling fine.” And as hippie as it all might sound, I give you a resounding PEACE, listening to the day-perfect classic-bit-of-psychedelia recorded by long-lived Outer Richmond residents: The Jefferson Airplane.

I was not a Jefferson Airplane fan when Steve Turner of Mudhoney turned me on to AFTER BATHING AT BAXTER'S, telling me it was one of the great treasures of all psychedelia. Many of their records had either been overplayed or did not have the right edge for me (and Slick’s vocals often annoyed). But this third record, released in 1967—a mere ten months after the
huge hit Surrealistic Pillow-- and produced by longtime movie-music-maven Henri Mancini engineer Al Schmitt, is itself a soundtrack—this time of the psychedelic generation. The record is un-commercial and definitely dated paisley; but the strong songs and musical arrangements dictate it’s relevance, and empower it over musical neighbors such as "Her Majesty’s Satanic Request" and "Revolver" because it is spoken by the San Francisco acid literate themselves. Amen.

As it was known, the Airplane’s sound much depended on who Slick was sleeping with. This was her Paul Kantner period (I’ve seen the photos), who co-wrote and sang most of the album’s tracks. But this record ultimately is a band experience, which is obvious from the album’s opener, “The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil” where the wonderful blues-riffing melodies degenerate into a dark instrumental bridge, forecasting the royal green and brown raga-ish meditations to come.

The true San Francisco electric groove (also see Moby Grape’s “Hey Grandma”) on “Young Girl Sunday Blues” saddles one of my favorite Airplane canters, with the epic chorus screaming “TODAY IS FILLED WITH YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW!!!!!” Leave your body behind?! Later track “Wild Tyme” is another acid test sing-along, always skipping twice for some reason on my copy, right where Slick, Kantner and Balin sing, “IT’S A WILLLLLLLD TIME!!!” Comparable to THE COMMON PEOPLE’s debut, the musical arrangements give an ethereal depth to side 1, concluding with“Rejoice” where Slick’s voice, understatedly showcased, purrs haunting and beautiful .

Side two features “Spare Change Shizoforest Love Suite” (see FLAMING LIPS for equally crazed song titles) with its opening trance percussions littered with fuzzy pickings and electronics--the ultimate time travel back sound of the LSD generation: mysterious, cozy, and on the sentimental side of a nightmare. Side two flows together dreamily from song to song, connected by slow and meandering guitar jams, reverberations and other 60s studio trickery closing with the song that brings me back to today “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon.” It is a mellow anti-climactic ending that resolves the listener to continue the kick-back after the needle picks up…maybe by throwing on The Sir Douglass Quintet or Easter Everywhere…any catalyst that continues the musical voyage through the day.

AFTER BATHING AT BAXTER'S definitely took a few warming listens. It is not what you would expect, and comes in clothes that are already well warn (not the cover, which is classic Ron Cobb artwork). The patient ear is rewarded with a wonderfully executed musical idea from a band that had newfound success and an amazing amount of musical confidence and daring.

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