CD Review: The Woodstock Experience

Jefferson Airplane
The Woodstock Experience
RCA/Legacy

Santana
The Woodstock Experience
Columbia/Legacy
By David Chiu

Santana and Jefferson Airplane were just a few of the main acts who played at the historic Woodstock festival in 1969. In celebration of Woodstock’s 40th anniversary this coming August , Legacy Recordings recently launched the The Woodstock Experience, a series of limited edition double discs which pairs an artists’ full set from the festival with their studio album recorded in that same year.

San Francisco’s Jefferson Airplane weren’t exactly newcomers by the time they played Woodstock—they were already a popular band thanks to the hits “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” So with that popularity comes clout, which the Airplane had when they recorded Volunteers, a now-classic album that reflected the social and political upheaval at the times. It was controversial not only because of its originally planned album title (Volunteers of Amerika) but for a line in lyrics to the outstanding opener “We Can Be Together”–“Up against the wall, motherfucker.” The anti-war sentiment runs through the record with the haunting track “Wooden Ships,” written by the Airplane’s Paul Kantner with David Crosby and Stephen Stills; and the call-to-arms rocker “Got a Revolution.” There are also some eclectic touches on Volunteers from the country folk on the lovely “Good Shepherd” and “The Farm” to the avant garde stylings of “Meadowlands.”

The intensity of Jefferson Airplane’s live performances also translated onto their rocking set at Woodstock, which is presented here in its entirety along with some previously unreleased tracks. (It should be of note that the band came onstage in the wee hours of the morning). The Airplane played several songs off of Volunteers, including a 21-minute version of “Wooden Ships,” with some earlier material (an explosive version of “Somebody to Love,” “White Rabbit,” and the punkish “3/5 of a Mile in Ten Seconds”)

In contrast to the Airplane, Santana were at the time a new band on the scene. Yet it has been widely written that it was their performance at Woodstock that really elevated the band’s popularity. It is quite evident how smoking the band was (especially Carlos Santana’s piercing guitar) on that August 16 afternoon 40 years ago: standouts include the urgent “Waiting,” the fiery blues of “You Don’t Care.” Most of the numbers from the performance have already been issued but the Woodstock Experience now restores “Evil Ways” to the set. The band’s self-titled debut was released after their career-defining Woodstock performance containing nearly all of the songs from that concert, including “Jingo Lo Ba” and “Persuasion.”

Other artists in The Woodstock Experience series include Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter and Sly and the Family Stone.

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