Performer: The Jefferson Airplane
Songwriters: Paul Kantner, Marty Balin
Original Release: Crown of Creation
Definitive Version: None
A year ago, the hottest new band on my playlist was one that hadn’t done anything in 40 years—The Jefferson Airplane. This was entirely due to seeing a tribute band do their material. This wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill band, but Tributosaurus—a Chicago institution for more than a decade.
Laurie first turned me on to Tributosaurus in the summer of 2005, when I still was making the commute from Columbus when I had an available weekend. It was summer-festival season, which is when every other weekend some neighborhood is having a street fair that consists of drinking the same beer, eating the same food and shopping for the same trinkets as the previous one. OK, so it only seems like it after you do enough of them.
Actually, a few have enough of a different theme to stand out. Laurie wanted to check out Retro on Roscoe, which was what you would think it was—mostly the same fair but with oldies tribute bands playing. There was Elevation, which was a faux U2 band where you got the idea that the lead singer really thought he was Bono and if the rest of the lads ever decided they’d have enough of the real Bono and gave him the boot, he’d be ready to step in, a la Marky Mark in Rock Star. Another group was the Afrodisiacs—again what you would imagine them to be: a bunch of ironic hipster dudes wearing bad ‘70s funk afro wigs and clothes and infused with the living spirit of Wild Cherry.
And then there was Tributosaurus. Their m.o. is that for one night (two shows) each month, usually the first Wednesday of the month at Martyr’s, they “become” an act and would play a set of songs. At Retro on Roscoe in 2005, they were going to be David Bowie, not one of my faves, but all right.
Well, the first thing that impressed me about them was that none of the guys in the band made any attempt whatsoever to look like Bowie or even as if they were from that era. It was just a bunch of guys who wandered in off the streets playing music. And then they started to play—the first song was Space Oddity, a good call. They did Ashes to Ashes and Golden Years before we moved along to the next thing, but they sounded damn good.
After I moved to Chicago, I saw that they were going to be The Monkees. I thought that was pretty funny—a tribute band paying tribute to a fake band—so Laurie and I went, and that was my first real Tributosaurus show. In a word, they were great. I mean, how do you pay homage to The Monkees with anything approaching reverence? They didn’t—they joke on stage through all of their sets—but the jokes stop once the music starts.
I’ve since seen them 11 times. Sometimes they’re merely good, like when we saw them become Simon & Garfunkel, and sometimes they’re transcendent, like when we saw them become Yes. (Yeah, they cover everybody, well, everybody from the ‘80s and back, although I guess they did Nirvana once.)
In the fall of 2010, they were the latter when we saw them become The Jefferson Airplane. The real draw was that they got Kathy Richardson to be Grace. This was very cool for two reasons: First, Laurie and I know her—not well, just casually, but well enough to converse with her at friends of friends’ parties.
Second, and more important, at the time of the Tributosaurus show, she was touring regularly with Jefferson Starship—yes, the real one, with Paul Kantner and Marty Balin. (Grace, of course, has long since retired to her painting.) Well, if you’re trying to be a Jefferson Airplane tribute band, why not get the same singer that Kantner & Co. use, right? That’s an official seal of approval right there.
This song was the second song of the show, and it was the first time that Kathy really got to sink her teeth into a vocal turn. You should have heard the reaction by the audience when she finished up on the middle section. It was a spontaneous torrent of hoots and whistles from the North Shore 60-somethings who had made the trek into town in their suburban trucks and awoke to the realization that they had stepped into the middle of something. Woah, it’s Grace, man. Pass me a sugar cube.
I know The Jefferson Airplane’s only two songs that radio has played for the last 40 years and a couple others, but Tributosaurus did this song and a bunch of others I’d never heard before. I remember saying to Laurie at some point: Man, it’s an absolute crime that I didn’t know The Airplane better when I was younger. This stuff is all over the map and great. Well, soon after that show, I took care of that deficiency tout suite.