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Jefferson Airplane - After Bathing at Baxter's CD (album) cover

AFTER BATHING AT BAXTER'S

Jefferson Airplane

 

Proto-Prog

3.84 | 81 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars The Airplane's masterpiece

The Summer of Love? As mentioned in my Pillow review Kantner (and others) have stated that the true magical moment in San Fran was '66, not the "summer of love" 1967. The Airplane were coming off the success of "Surrealistic Pillow" and its hit singles. They had taken on Bill Graham as manager and were working very hard trying to record the follow-up while gigging, all throughout that magical summer when tour buses began rolling through the Haight and young people were flocking there from across the country. It was one of those situations where something quite special had taken place but the magic was unsustainable and would be ruined ultimately by human nature. The initial innocence and the taste of freedom and expression were wonderful combined with the intoxicant of youth, but within another year the scene would degenerate into excess, hard drugs, scam artists, and eventually poisonous politics. Despite the chaos of 1967 or perhaps because of it, Baxters would be the masterpiece of Jefferson Airplane. It stands with "Piper" and "Sgt. Pepper" and the other great albums of 1967.

Recording began May 22nd 1967 making "Baxters" the product of the craziness of that summer. It was recorded mostly in the middle of the night by a band trying to turn their previous album on its head. With the success of Pillow the band had nearly complete carte blanche to do whatever the hell they wanted without concerns about the commercial potential, and they were smart enough to realize such attitudes among the suits would not last, so they made the best of it. The album was pretty much written in the studio without central planning, mostly by Kantner, the band bursting with creative intent and fueled by copious amounts of hallucinogens.....along with heavy drinking by Grace and Spencer. But it mattered not...this was the party, this was the time where they could do little wrong, and this was the album that would capture Jefferson Airplane at the peak of their career.

While it's true that the album was experimental and ambitious, what makes it a masterpiece is something much simpler: "Baxters" was change mostly unsullied by cynicism and dysfunction. While true that darker topics were entering the writing, by sheer luck, magic, or something else, this is the album that listeners can inhale to experience life, joy, sunny June morning dew on the grass, children laughing, first kiss innocence. For the band descent had already started via egos, factions and cocaine, but for the listener the album captured a moment that could always be held tight. These feelings were not only a San Fran thing. Young people everywhere would soon feel a longing for escape. All these years later the escape wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and what was seen as old fashioned has in some ways been redeemed. Still, one has to hand it to the musicians for leaving such documents of the period.

This masterful rallying cry of chaos begins with an erupting bit of feedback before the "Pooneil" track becomes a textbook example of what Grace could do with her voice. The multi-vocalist approach was so instrumental in Airplane's vibe, Grace's sultry and powerful wail, Marty's smooth and comforting piece of the puzzle. At the same time the Casady/Kaukonen wing were making their greatest leaps forward in their playing. The track bleeds into "A small package" which is a direct result of the band trying their hand at being Zappa/Mothers. It is a bit silly and indulgent as its critics charge and yet it works perfectly in the concept of this album. You have to remember, this is not an album to play here and there while running errands. This is a piece that is to be savored in its entirety when you have time to shut out the world and dissolve into it.

Marty was feeling marginalized by this point, being openly ridiculed by Jack and Jorma for his "square" tastes. Sadly his only writing contribution here is the lovely "Young Girl Sunday Blues" which is probably the albums most "normal" track. "Martha" is this lovely, lilting, kaleidoscope ode to a young mischievous girl who hung out in the band's social circle. It turns into "Wild Tyme H" which famously finds the band exclaiming proudly "I'm doing things that haven't got a name yet." In "The Last Wall of the Castle" Jorma is ferocious, the fuzz guitar leads entering a new and heavier territory. He would become very enamored with the Cream approach which would lead he and Casady to Hot Tuna.

"I wrote what was interesting to me assuming people had read this stuff. But there's a larger record-buying audience out there that doesn't know shit." -Grace, about "rejoyce"

And then we get to "rejoyce" which is the album's finest moment for me and proved that Grace was indeed more than a charismatic singer. Loosely based on Joyce's "Ulysses" Slick twists the lyrics and takes them different places, while coming up with some of the Airplane's most interesting recorded music. With the guitars mostly quiet she conjures epic dreaminess and fantasy with her voice and piano, utilizing disjointed sections, some eastern influences, and "discordant, brooding, ominous chord sequences" aptly described by Airplane biographer Jeff Tamarkin (Got A Revolution - The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane.) "rejoyce" always leaves me to wonder what could have been had the Airplane veered this direction with their next album, had they went for a sparser and more experimental studio mind bomb as opposed to heading more in the rock direction favored by the grooving Tuna boys.

On Halloween 1967 the singers were not around, so the future Tuna and Dryden set about laying down what became the 9 minutes of pure improvisation known as "Spare Chaynge." A bit long winded but largely successful if you like guitar noodling, it again fits this particular album just fine. After Grace's witty "Two Heads" the album closes with Paul's tribute to "acid, incense and balloons" at the park. "Saturday Afternoon" evokes the spirit of the hippy celebration as well as any song ever did. Baxters is one in a series of triumphant albums by this great American band, your favorite will depend on your tastes. All of albums through Volunteers belong in every respectable rock collection.

"To us, Baxters was a performance and artistic success because, like spoiled little brats, we got to do whatever we wanted to do. But I say "spoiled little brats" with a certain amount of fondness." -Jack Casady

Finnforest | 5/5 |

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