Mickey Thomas looks back with Starship in Aspen
IF YOU GO …
What: Starship featuring Mickey Thomas
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Thursday, Dec. 28, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $88
Tickets: Wheeler box office; http://www.aspenshowtix.com
Mickey Thomas still loves singing “We Built This City.”
The 1985 anthem remains a centerpiece of concerts by Starship featuring Mickey Thomas, the latest incarnation of the groundbreaking Bay Area rock band that began as Jefferson Airplane in 1965 before evolving into the Jefferson Starship and then Starship.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Aren’t you sick of singing these songs after thousands of times?’ But I truly am not,” Thomas said. “I guess I’m a people-pleaser. So I know what the audience is going to expect, and I know that if I went to see my favorite band and I didn’t get to hear the hits I wanted to hear, then I would be disappointed. So when the audience is happy, it makes me happy.”
Thomas’ band will headline the Wheeler Opera House tonight. His shows with Starship stick with the hits, from “Jane” to “Find a Way Back,” “No Way Out” and, of course, “We Built This City.” The band also reaches back to the early pre-Starship, pre-Thomas days of Jefferson Airplane with a medley of tracks from the “Surrealistic Pillow” era including “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” with singer Stephanie Calvert doing the parts immortalized by Grace Slick.
“We try to cover all the bases,” Thomas said. “I always try to do what I think the audience would expect from a Starship show.”
Sometimes they’ll throw in a song or two from “Loveless Fascination,” Starship’s 2013 album and its first since the 1980s.
Thomas came from a blues, R&B and gospel background. So when the band offered him the lead singer spot in 1979 — when he was best known as the singer on the bluesy Elvin Bishop Band hit “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” — he was unsure how he would contribute to the rock legacy of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship.
“When I got the call from the Jefferson Starship I was perplexed as to how, stylistically, this was going to work out,” he recalled.
When he met the band members, he found, they wanted to take the band in a drastically different, harder-rock direction. The first song he released with Jefferson Starship was “Jane,” which announced the new sound that would take the band into the 1980s.
It had, notoriously, been a soap opera of a rock band since its formation in San Francisco in the mid-1960s, filled with inner conflicts and hard-partying drama.
Marty Balin and Grace Slick had left when Thomas came on board, and the band’s remaining members wanted a fresh start. They titled their first album with the new lineup “Freedom at Point Zero” to mark the new era.
“We were wiping the slate clean and starting over,” Thomas said, “saying it’s a new band from this point forward. Therew was freedom that came along with that.”
A few years later, Thomas recalled, Slick visited them in the studio and marveled at the lack of dysfunction.
“She said, ‘Wow, things have changed since I left — you guys are really having fun and things are functioning like they should be. Can I come back?’”
She did come back a few years later, but the drama never quite left the Starship — new disputes, lawsuits, more name changes, more fights and competing touring versions of the band were still to come.
Thomas has left all that behind now, sticking with the nostalgia and the good vibes of playing his band’s hits for fans around the world.
“I still really love playing all these songs,” Thomas said. “I never get tired of it.”
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The Youth Art Expo will run Feb. 27 through March 14 at the Aspen Art Museum, showcasing work by young artists from Aspen to Rifle.