Feb 21, 2012

July 31, 1967: O'Keefe Centre, Toronto


Marty Balin smiled with delight as he looked over the 300 people dancing on the O'Keefe Centre stage last night, and just for fun he acted out the fear on Hugh Walker's face when the whole thing started.
Balin's group, the Jefferson Airplane, rock 'n' roll exponents of the San Francisco hippie-freedom, got the kids dancing in the aisles in a joyous freewheeling happening.
Ushers frantically tried to return them to their seats because, after all, other paying customers might want to see, and besides that sort of thing just isn't done at the O'Keefe. "Disregard the ushers," the leader of one of the three rock groups on the bill shouted. Hundreds of them did and that's what bothered Walker, the Centre's managing director.
Over at the side, he had a hasty discussion with Bill Graham, the San Francisco dance hall baron and producer of the show. Graham pointed out that the crowd was peaceful and happy and wouldn't think of tearing up those soft seats or anything else. "Let's just say it turned out all right," he said afterward, a few minutes before disappearing into a back room for more discussions with five gray-suited O'Keefe managers.
Most of the near sellout crowd last night just watched. Dozens more sat out in the lobbies discussing the whole thing over a few more cigarettes. But maybe 300 others danced to a pounding, driving, throbbing and oozing trip of sound and color supplied by three bands and two light shows.
Here's how it happened.

Before the opening dim of the lights, the three screens on stage were already giving an appetizer. Centre screen carried the encircled, upside-down Y peace symbol, its colors slowly changing; green on blue, blue on two greens, tan on green and yellow. This screen was filled by Headlights, a group that adds the visual impact to the rock 'n' roll shows at Graham's Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. They work with liquid projections - colored oils swirled on a dish and projected - and rotating color wheels and loops of live-action film.
At stage right and left were two extra screens carrying color projection by a New York group called Sensefex Inc. Their work involves the projection of paint-splotch slides, electric motors that twirl the whole thing around. A movie projector showed its contents through a chute of angled mirrors that was also rotated by a motor. On the screens the multi-hued splotches revolved slowly forming a kaleidoscope resembling some protoplasm. Its colors were hard and deeply defined; white Headlights projected soft, gentle colors like early morning.
The audience was liberally sprinkled with hippies - in army shirts and commando hats, in beads and capes, and even in ties and jackets.

First Band: Toronto's Luke & the Apostles started off with their hard blues-rock sound. Lead singer Luke Gibson hugged the microphone crooner-style as he belted out "My Soul."
The peace symbol started dripping colors and eventually melting away shapelessly under the liquid colors that were applied above it. Bizarre globes turned green, red and back to green and ended like a red sky with stars.
The Apostles did two standard blues, "You Can't Judge a Book By Looking At the Cover" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," both in a tough, heavy lumbering tone, filled with science-fiction and monster noises that were interesting to hear but out of place.

"Schoolgirl" was also done by the next group, the Grateful Dead, but in a looser, freer version, and in the Chicago blues form it came from. It was symbolic of the free music the group plays. They take it easy and put in their improvisations naturally. That characterizes both the Jefferson Airplane and the Dead, the latter lesser known and less inventive.
But the Dead are the true spokesmen for the San Francisco hippie scene and former resident musicians with the LSD Trips Festivals run by novelist Ken Kesey. (They also have an album that its Canadian distributor can't keep in stock, though the Dead have had no radio hits).
Leader Jerry Garcia's group doesn't have as much substance as the Airplane, but they work together as precisely as parts of a machine. Two-hundred-pound Pig Pen (Ronald McKernan) gives a happy undertone to the music, while Phil Lesh plays complex bass.

It took the Jefferson Airplane after intermission to get the dancing started. The taped sounds of a jet heralded their arrival. The group fills to stage front with Grace Slick's torchy vocal, "Somebody to Love." The Airplane captured that crowd without effort. The quality of their music, its intelligence and imagination superimposed on the necessary beat, drew them out to experience total involvement with sound and color. This music appeals to the older rock 'n' roll lovers. The young kids can't dance with the tempo transitions. The older ones do a free-form, improvised dance.
Leader Balin sings in a clear voice. Grace booms and lashes out with hers. Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen puts substance into the group's improvisations, while Jack Casady puts down a solid bass line. Spencer Dryden adds excitement with his drums, and Paul Kantner plays guitar, and sings. They project the spontaneity & freshness of youth. Their music is alive, and communicates clearly despite its complex arrangements and structure.
After the concert-dance, another dance occurs right on stage. This one planned as all three bands jam for a straight 50 minutes.

(by Volkmar Richter, from the Toronto Star, August 1 1967 - reproduced in the 7/31/67 entry of deadlists.com)

The front page leader for the story:

"The normally staid O'Keefe Centre - a hotbed of Toronto culture - took on a mod look last night as young hippies danced in the aisles to the music of the Jefferson Airplane, a rock group in the San Francisco style. Later 300 youths danced on the stage as three groups jammed for 50 minutes."

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