1960s San Francisco scene recalled...
'Go Ride the Music' and 'West Pole' are two films covering the psychedelic San Francisco scene in the late 60's and early 70's. 'Go Ride the Music' features key players Jefferson Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. 'West Pole' is more of a documentary film taking in the counter culture happenings around the bay area and includes rare footage of Ace of Cups, early Steve Miller, The Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin and more Airplane and Quicksilver.
So far so good. In fact this compilation is better than good, with some outstanding musical clips, cleverly integrated footage of the time ranging from demos to festivals and all too rare footage of fans who name check their favourite bands on the burgeoning local scene. And while Ralph Gleason may come across as a little too earnest in his enthusiasm for the West Coast counter culture, and San Francisco in particular, his exposition of the culture complex, if not a cultural revolution at the time, is certainly weighty enough to merit the title 'An Essay in San Francisco Adult Rock Sound'.
But what of the music? Well unlike far too many hastily compiled retro docs, both 'West Pole and 'Go Ride the Music' in particular, come up with some classic band footage. The Airplane are caught in a rehearsal studio and meander their way through such favourites as 'Volunteers', 'Somebody To Love' and 'Wooden Ships' though it's the oft forgotten 'Plastic Fantastic Lover' sung by Marty Balin that hints at a Dead vibe and is the highlight.
The Quicksilver footage comes from presumably a local festival with the band actually playing on grass in front of a drum riser of sorts. Dino Valente sings his heart out and Cipollina adds his unique weird tone to proceedings as everyone seems to have a good time. Bo Diddley's 'Mona' gets the Quicksilver jammed out treatment and a little child runs between band members on the grass, happy days!
The second film is a compilation and appraisal of the bay area scene of the time. Different fans mention their favourite bands and it's notable that both Steve Miller and Santana are called 'Blues bands'.
Moby Grape, Its A Beautiful day and the Electric Flag all get a mention while there's excellent footage of the hugely underrated San Francisco all women band Ace of Cups (who once opened for Hendrix in Golden Gate Park). There's also an all too brief snippet of a psychedelic influenced Steve Miller and the horn-led Sons of Champlin (later to join Chicago), although the soundtrack and visuals seem to part company near the end of the song.
All 135 bands that Ralph Gleason mentions on camera are listed and various venues from The Matrix Club to the Avalon Ballroom are included together with some footage of huge crowds which give emphasis to the core role of music in the West Coast counter culture.
In conclusion the musical footage alone is good enough to recommend a purchase. But this Gleason/Zagone production was also ground breaking in itself with new production ideas such as the use of split screens, backstage footage, sound checks and record label promos all skilfully combined to present an excellent document of a special time. Recommended!
Review by Pete Feenstra