Cleopatra Records’ latest archival release from the Quicksilver Messenger Service’s live vaults takes us back – waaaaaaaay back – to the band’s early days.
QMS would’ve been just over a year old when they hit the stage of San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium on November 5, 1966 – and they sound as if they’re still discovering (and amazing themselves with) the magic they could generate. The quintet (vocalist Jim Murray; guitarists Gary Duncan and John Cipollina; bassist David Freiberg; drummer Greg Elmore) held their exploratory powers in check for the night, with half of the show’s 14 songs clocking in under four minutes. The trade-off for the lack of extended jams is the fact that we’re treated to 14 flavors of QMS, from the opening hippie happiness of “Dino’s Song” (a quick and classic study in Cipollina’s tasteful Bigsby vibrato work) to the apocalyptic “Pride Of Man” (all growling Murray and snarling guitars).
In between we have covers of heroes: an ultra-cool take on Mose Allison’s “If You Live” is a showcase for Duncan and Cipollina’s psychedelic blues chops (along with Murray’s blues harp); Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” is slow, slippery, and raunchy; and their take on Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q” gives it a good bayou-style blackening (with a flash of something trippy on the side), a couple years before Creedence Clearwater Revival hit the AM airwaves with it. A foot-flat-to-the-floor run through “Got My Mojo Workin’” tips the hat to Muddy Waters, who was actually the headliner for the night (listen to Freiberg ripping it up on the bass while Elmore hurriedly builds the ladders, staying just one rung ahead of him). And it wouldn’t be Quicksilver without some Bo Diddley: 11/5/66 offers up the romp of “You Don’t Love Me” with wild-and-wooly group harmonies and a short-but-sweet guitar break by Cipollina that says more in 20 seconds than some do in a lifetime.
Other highlights include the instrumental “Acapulco Gold And Silver” (penned by Duncan and Stephen Shuster) – while only 2:14 long, it provides a cool snapshot of what Dave Brubeck might’ve sounded like dosed – and the band’s epic take on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’”. Once Freiberg and Elmore lock in on the tune’s classic groove, they never break rank – but their bedrock rhythm allows Cipollina and Duncan to weave and tumble and turn Hubert Sumlin’s signature riff inside-out and outside-in. They take it down to a dangerous simmer, then let it fly all crazy and greasy – and all the while, Jim Murray testifies like he could’ve been Ron “Pigpen” McKernan’s soul brother.
Also to be noted is the sound quality of the 11/5/66 performance – some of the best yet from the Quicksilver archives.
This is the sound of psychedelic pioneers setting out across unmapped territory.
Does it have historical significance? For sure.
Better yet: is it fun? Damn straight.
Brian Robbins practices his bayou-style blackening on a hotplate over at www.brian-robbins.com