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Starship Can Still Fly

September 24, 1987|PAUL GREIN

The key to enjoying a Starship show is keeping the group in the right context. If you go expecting a link to the adventurousness and social consciousness of the old Jefferson Airplane, you're bound to be disappointed. But if you go looking for a great pop show, stacked with lots of catchy, well-crafted hits, you'll be in luck.

It's tempting to say that the only thing that Starship has in common with the Airplane is that Grace Slick sang in both groups. But the enthusiastic reaction to Starship's show Tuesday at the Universal Amphitheatre proves otherwise. The fists in the air during "We Built This City" suggested that Starship's new hits speak to today's kids almost as much as the Airplane's "White Rabbit" did to their parents 20 years ago--even if the line "Marconi plays the mamba" doesn't have quite as much depth as "feed your head."

Starship specializes in punchy power pop, propelled by the ripe, soaring tenor of lead singer Mickey Thomas. Thomas isn't a particularly distinctive lead vocalist--he could just as easily front Journey or Survivor--but he is effective.

Most of Starship's recent hits are optimistic anthems, from the proud strut of "We Built This City" to the warm resolve of "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now." The band focused on material from its last two albums, omitting most of the Jefferson Starship-period hits. Slick, did, however, come through with strong readings of the Airplane classics "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love."

Jon Butcher opened the show with a hard-rock set that featured two interesting covers: a funk 'n' metal version of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and a slow blues reading of Jimi Hendrix's "Red House." The set was undermined by Butcher's ponderous--and silly--musings. Sample: "If wishes were horses, dreamers would ride." I'll walk.

(It was announced Wednesday that the Starship/Jon Butcher concert scheduled for Friday at the Pacific Amphitheatre has been canceled due to an illness in the band.)

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