"Surrealistic Superjam" | Fillmore | Review
It was a 1967 jukebox performance like no other at The Fillmore in San Francisco on January 31, when a veritable who’s who of contemporary Bay Area jamsters came together for a “Surrealistic Superjam.” The event, presented by the Recording Academy San Francisco Chapter, was a salute to “the 50th Anniversary of the Summer Of Love and San Francisco's own Jefferson Airplane’s release of the iconic album ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ on this day in 1967.”
With fresh approaches and nicely tweaked arrangements, some 25 players ran through pleasantly rehearsed, well-school versions of classics from 1967, the historical heyday of the of the so-called “psychedelic San Francisco sound.” Beginning with “Cold Rain & Snow” from The Grateful Dead’s first record – the performers played it in modern-day mid-tempo style rather than the frenetic paced version on The Dead’s original record, to an epic sing-along to The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” it was hard to tell who enjoyed it more, the musicians or the sold-out assemblage.
For those who have not noticed, while respect has not diminished for the members of the San Francisco music scene circa 1967, some of whom are still performing, the baton has slowly but surely been passed toward a new breed of bright-eyed, music whiz kids. And on this night, only a couple were in the 50-and-over crowd.
“Right now, the Bay Area musician scene is riper than I’ve ever seen it in the almost 20 years I’ve been living here,” said Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz, a main catalyst and facilitator for the Superjam’s proceedings. “So much collaborating and sharing of ideas. It’s a really inspiring time. The lineups just fell into place.”
The core band, included Lebo (from ALO and other bands, on guitars/lap steel/vocals), Steve Adams (from ALO and Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers, on bass/keyboards), Jason Crosby (highly in-demand session and live player, on keyboards/guitar/vocals), and Ezra Lipp (Stu Allen, New Monsoon, etc., on drums).
There was a proud, organic San Francisco flavor to the event, set in the original Fillmore, a focal point of the local music scene all those years ago. Over the course of the entire show, which clocked in at about two hours, the backdrops included undulating liquid lights and iconic images, some from TV, and some from the lens of the late, great Jim Marshall.
And the musical material itself was more than just a bunch of old radio classics. Part of America’s musical lexicon of the 1960s, these were pieces of music are an important, indelible part of the fiber of American popular culture of the second half of the 20th century. The material’s familiarity helped engross and gratify the crowd who nodded, smiled, danced, and visibly appreciated the songs, and made for fairly easy crafting of arrangements for these like-minded friends and players from different bands.
“We did one rehearsal with the core band,” Lebo said. “I find this scene of people to be really efficient at rehearsing. Everyone showed up knowing the songs already. That way the rehearsal <was> spent working on the finer details. From that point we just ran through the arrangements backstage and at sound check with the other 20 musicians.”
The proceedings went as follows (lead singers in parentheses):
Set 1: “Cold Rain and Snow” (Lebo from ALO, other bands)
“For What It's Worth” (Jason Crosby/Roger McNamee from Moonalice, Doobie Decibel System)
“(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay” (Dave Mulligan from Nicki Bluhm & the Grambers / Elliott Peck from Midnight North)
“San Francisco – Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair” (Ben and Alex Morrison of Brothers Comatose)
“White Rabbit” (Paula Frazer from Tarnation)
Set 2: “Embryonic Journey” (Instrumental - Bo Carper from New Monsoon / Lebo)
“California Dreamin'” (Grahame Lesh from Midnight North, Terrapin Family Band)
“Happy Together” (Zach Gill from ALO)
“Stand” (Lesley Grant from Katdelic)
“Today” (Trevor Garrod from Tea Leaf Green)
“Somebody to Love” (Nicki Bluhm from Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers)
“All You Need Is Love” (All)
Each song was presented with reverence to the original versions, but with tasteful enhancements and augmentations fueled by, in addition to the names mentioned above, the vocal skills of Erika Tietjen (T Sisters) as well as the instrumental prowess of folks including Pete Sears (Moonalice & more), Ross James (Phil & Friends, Terrapin Family Band), Scott Guberman (Phil Lesh & Friends), Deren Ney (Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers), Jonny Bones (California Honeydrops), Rob Dehlinger (Stormy Jones, composer), and Mike Curry (Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers).
The Superjam followed the local Recording Academy’s San Francisco Chapter Board’s 59th annual Grammy Nomination Celebration, which took place immediately before the concert.