Kantner brings Starship, sense of fun to Old Town
Paul Kantner is looking forward to rocking Old Colorado City Saturday, May 6. He just needed a little help this week figuring out what kind of place it is.
“Is it a mining town?” asked the co-founder of the Jefferson Airplane and the leader of the Jefferson Starship in a phone interview with the Westside Pioneer. Informed about the setting - the band facing down closed-off Colorado Avenue, with the sun setting over Pikes Peak - Kantner seemed pleased. “We've always had a good response in Colorado,” he said.
Nor is he going to worry about how many people make up that response. Told that between 10,000 and 15,000 people are expected and asked how he and his band might prepare for such a show, Kantner said they won't. “We play the same if there are 10 people or 10,000,” he said. “There's no real preparation for it. We know what we're doing - more or less.”
The important thing, he believes, is to have fun. “It's why we started the music in San Francisco,” Kantner said, harking back to the Airplane's origins in the mid-60's. “The music was too serious. There wasn't even a place for us to play, no radio station to play our songs. We sort of lucked out. We built our own club (he and fellow founder Marty Balin), and cut our own path through the forest, as it were.”
The Jefferson Family Galactic Reunion Tour, of which the Old Colorado City concert is a part, commemorates the 40-year anniversary of the group's first album, titled “The Airplane Takes Off.” The word “reunion” implies a one-time get-together, but the fact is that Kantner's “Jefferson” career has never really stopped. Whether with the Airplane, the Jefferson Starship or relatively brief side efforts, his work has appeared on dozens of albums and numerous hit songs, and most of the musicians on the current tour have been with him for years.
Not that the now-65-year-old rock pioneer has become predictable. When asked what songs the band might play May 6, Kantner described a process in which spontaneity reigns supreme. On the day of a gig, out of about 100 songs the band knows, he typically writes out a playlist. “But it almost inevitably gets tossed aside,” he chuckled. Someone from the audience could call out a request, or sometimes “we just feel the audience and go there instead of with the plan.”
As for the songs themselves, don't expect them to sound exactly like they did on the albums. “I like not being able to predict what's going to happen,” Kantner said. “Songs are open for interpretation every night. And you don't know what's going to happen. Someone might break a guitar string or forget the words. It leaves an ocean open for what might happen. Sometimes the music changes on its own, and you have no control except to choose whether to go with it or not.”
Adding to the fun is the band's willingness to interchange members. While Tim Constanten and Country Joe McDonald are scheduled for individual subsets within the Jefferson Starship's set, they could just as easily sit in for a while with the main band, or vice versa. There's also an outside chance of unannounced musicians appearing on stage out of nowhere.
This willingness to take chances obviously keeps musicians on their toes, but for Kantner it's the ability to sense each other's direction - sometimes without a word or even a look - that makes it all worthwhile. “It's the closest thing I know to mental telepathy,” he said. “It's one of the reasons I'm still in music. Nobody knows how the elements of music go from you to them, or why it produces the reaction in the brain of someone. I feel like I'm handling magicians' tools without knowing how they work. Maybe it's better that I don't.”
Having turned 65 in March, Kantner was asked how much longer he plans to keep going. “We don't plan on things,” he said. “When I started, I didn't plan to be famous, I just wanted to be in a band, and it got out of hand. We're having great times. It pays the bar bill, and it got my kid through college and blah blah blah. It's invigorating and I'm constantly learning. As long as it stays that way, I will continue to do it.”
Westside Pioneer article