On the verge of Independence Day and Woodstock's 40th anniversary, the veteran bunch go all spaced-out and cover all bases.
Donning the Martians robes for the UFO parade seemed like a logical step for a band who'd beamed cosmic music all over America for more than four decades, first in the 'PLANE clothes and then from the board of this interstellar vehicle. Yet the Paul Kantner-helmed crew took the idea a parsec further and invited their audience to an adventurous trip which this 4 CD set documents. It borders on overload with separate discs for rehearsals and a soundcheck aimed at completists but the taut test version of "All Fly Away", originating on the band's debut, "Dragon Fly", beats the concert one, and David Frieberg's lysergic run through "Space Oddity" may challenge their jazzy reading of "Dark Star" for expansiveness. And if the latter's appearance in the repertoire is justified by the presence of GRATEFUL DEAD's Tom Constanten, whose piano elegantly carries Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", it's an addition of unexpected covers that makes it all so interesting.
The show may climax with the inescapable triplet of "Somebody To Love", "White Rabbit" and "Volunteers", yet it starts with BONZOS' "Urban Spaceman" and Norman Greenbaum's "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago" and gains seriousness along the way. There, "Hyperdrive", another early classic, hangs its heavy soul under the guidance of STARSHIP's old bassist Pete Sears who makes a welcome return together with their erstwhile singer Darby Gould. She brings down celestial glory of FLOYD's "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse" and does a fantastic Sandy Denny impression in "Genesis Hall", while her successor Cathy Richardson serves up a tremulous "I Can't Forgive You", that Phil Lesh's acolyte Barry Sless adorns with pedal steel, before Jack Traylor joins in the ringing folk ride with "Earth Mother". The most impressive piece on offer is "Wooden Ships" that Kantner reclaims from CS&N, with harmonies-filled oldies "Crown Of Creation" and "Lawman" falling not far behind. On the other side of the spectrum lies flat "Chimes Of Freedom" from the group's latest album, "Jefferson's Tree Of Liberty".
Much more effectively in the Roswell context work a coupling of "Have You Seen The Saucers" and "Have You Seen The Stars Tonight?" which brought the Mothership's captain the respect of Sci-Fi community back in 1970, whereas traditional "Follow The Drinking Gourd" helps to keep the balance between astronomy and dirt-digging. From this standpoint, "Tales" - very human, rather than alien(ating) - make a riveting spin.