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Quicksilver Messenger Service - At the Kabuki Theatre (1970)

Released legally 36 years after the fact, the double-disc set At the Kabuki Theatre presents a recording of Quicksilver Messenger Service's 1970 New Year's Eve performance in San Francisco; the sound quality is surprisingly good, because the show was broadcast live that night by local radio station KMPX, resulting in a relatively clear recording. The concert came at a late point in Quicksilver's history. Exactly one year earlier, on New Year's Eve 1969, the existing band consisting of guitarist John Cipollina, bassist David Freiberg, drummer Greg Elmore, and pianist Nicky Hopkins had been rejoined by guitarist Gary Duncan, who had left the group after its second album, Happy Trails, and singer/songwriter Dino Valente, who had been intended to be a member of Quicksilver at their formation in 1965, but was forced to serve a jail sentence for drugs instead. By now, with 1970 coming to a close, the band had made two albums full of Valente's songs, Just for Love and the newly released What About Me, and Hopkins had departed, leaving the group a quintet. Not surprisingly, the set was dominated by the recent material, and even looked forward to the next two Quicksilver albums. The opener, "Fresh Air" (which had climbed halfway up the Billboard Hot 100, Quicksilver's biggest hit single), Cipollina's instrumental "Cobra," and the closer, "Freeway Flyer," were from Just for Love; What About Me contributed five songs, "Baby, Baby," "Subway," "Call on Me," "Local Color," and the title track; "The Truth" and "Song for Frisco" would appear on Quicksilver 11 months hence; and "Mojo" would be held for 1972's Comin' Thru. The pre-Valente era was accounted for only by "Pride of Man" from 1968's Quicksilver Messenger Service, "Mona" from Happy Trails, and "Too Far" from Shady Grove. As such, this is very much a performance by the Valente version of the band, making it more of a singer-with-backup-band show than the kind of jamming effort Quicksilver were known for from 1965 to 1969. Old-time fans might disdain it almost as much as they did the Valente-led albums, even though there is some excellent guitar playing by both Cipollina and Duncan, and, of course, Valente's songs are well written and sung. Any doubt about who was in charge is erased by the inclusion of excerpts from a Quicksilver rehearsal that fill out the second disc; here, Valente is running the show, directing the players in no uncertain terms. (It turned out that, whatever the original intentions, there wasn't enough room in the band for all these players; in the year after the Kabuki Theatre show, both Cipollina and Freiberg left Quicksilver.) --- William Ruhlmann

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