In 1975, Valenti, Cipollina, Duncan, Frieberg, and Elmore reunited Quicksilver Messenger Service to record a new studio album, Solid Silver, and to promote it with a brief tour. Frieberg, due to his commitments with Jefferson Starship, was unable to join the tour, but the other members recruited Skip Olsen on bass to replace him, as well as keyboardist Michael Lewis to augment the group's sound.
Many of the shows on this tour brought Quicksilver back into the club scene, playing in more intimate settings, but this Winterland performance, where the group headlined a triple bill also featuring Soundhole and Little Feat before a hometown crowd, was well attended and found the reunited version of the band playing before a much larger audience. Approximately half an hour of fragmentary segments of the two sets from this night have circulated among collectors for many years, but thanks to the discovery of Bill Graham's recordings, we can now present the entire Quicksilver performance in unedited form.
Not surprisingly, the first set opens with the marijuana anthem, "Fresh Air," one of the most recognizable and popular songs from the Valenti-led era of the band, which receives a warm reception from the San Francisco audience. Without further ado, they proceed with a rip-roaring take on "Mona" that forgoes the original Bo Diddley beat for a much more up-tempo approach. The mix is still being adjusted during this number, but the power of the band is apparent right from the start. Gary Duncan takes an impressive solo during the first half of the number, followed by a brief drum solo by Elmore. Following Elmore's drum break, John Cipollina comes out blazing with a truly demented and scorching solo that leaves no doubt that this band can still rip it up.
Valenti slows things down for the romantic "Baby, Baby;" a track from their 1970 What About Me LP, before they tackle many of the new Solid Silver album tracks in succession. These new songs show both the strengths and the weaknesses of the band. Written by Duncan, "Gypsy Lights" is the best of the bunch, a classic dual guitar workout of intertwining guitar leads that is sizzling and captivating throughout. This number is a truly great addition to the band's impressive catalogue. Cipollina's "Heebie Jeebies" contains some of the same elements, but is more of a straightforward rocker, that while enjoyable, doesn't really cover new territory. "Cowboy On The Run" offers up the mellower side of the band, providing some contrast to the rockers, which continue with the Duncan/Valenti collaboration "Bittersweet Love" and Duncan's "They Don't Know," which provides a showcase for keyboardist, Michael Lewis. The first set wraps up with a solid take on Valenti's "Play My Guitar" followed by a highly extended version of the new uptempo blues, "Worrying Shoes." Clocking in at just shy of ten minutes, this is nearly triple the length of the Solid Silver recording and is a far more engaging listen.
Following a brief intermission, Quicksilver return to the Winterland stage for a second set focusing on classic earlier material. This set primarily features a triple whammy of songs from the group's 1970 albums, Just For Love and What About Me, beginning with the title song from the latter album. "What About Me" is taken at a slower tempo than usual and Valenti encourages audience participation. This re-engages the Winterland audience and the group commands their attention for the remainder of the night. A most surprising performance follows with an outstanding version of "Freeway Flyer" from the Just For Love album. Always a high-energy number onstage, this version goes far beyond, stretching out to an extraordinary 22 minutes of pure high energy jamming. In direct contrast to the looseness of "Freeway Flyer," the band wrap things up with a tight take on Duncan and Valenti's homage to New York City travel, "Subway," which leaves the hometown crowd howling for more. The band obliges by returning for an encore of one of their signature songs, an absolutely scorching jam on the classic "Who Do You Love." Although the beginning was not captured, what remains is classic QMS in fired-up jamming mode, and it's a wild ride indeed.
Despite their ups and downs over the years, this recording proves that Quicksilver's unique chemistry was still very much intact during this reunion tour. Valenti's unusual, but undeniably expressive vocals are still a major focal point here and he is in particularly strong vocal form on this night, whether he's leading the way, providing harmony vocals for Duncan or Cipollina or simply improvising along. The Solid Silver album would never get the attention it deserved, despite containing several standout tracks and featuring John Cipollina's return to the band. Not unlike their classic earlier albums, these new studio recordings were often far more exciting on stage, thanks to the tremendous energy the band infused into their live performances. Both Cipollina and Duncan are in fine form here and as the "Who Do You Love" encore clearly proves, the group was still quite capable of cosmic performances featuring blazing guitar solos and a pummeling rhythm. This 1975 gig may have literally been the end of the line for the group, but it more often than not conveys a band that could still pull off performances as intense as ever.