What makes classic rock classic? It comes from a time when Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers grew up on sounds that captured their generations’ hopes and fears. Rock & roll music collided in the 1960s with social, economic, and political upheavals that made musicians respond creatively. And there was an audience for it. In a time when restrictions and barriers of all kinds were being challenged and even torn down, the mood of the times said that anything could be done, or at least tried.
Max Weinberg is known as “The Professor” (He also has a boss who’s known as “The Boss”). He has the mien of an all-business music teacher who dresses fastidiously and perhaps wags his finger at a student who misses a note. Before he joined Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, he had played in Broadway pit orchestras.
And he can play the hell out of a drum kit. His rifle-shot snare cracks on the opening to “Born in the U .S. A.” are seared into the brains of everyone who’s heard them, and the drum break in the middle of the song (about the closest Weinberg ever comes to a drum solo) is a like a fusillade of percussive mortar shelling that is to drums what Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” is to the electric guitar. Besides that, he’s as good a time-keeper as there is in the business.
But that’s just one side of Max Weinberg, drummer. He’s led the house band for Conan O’Brien, leads his own swing-style big band, and is kicking off a tour at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center with his neo-bar band, Max Weinberg’s Jukebox.
Weinberg and his crack band play a rousing set of golden oldies that take you back to glory era of the ‘60s and ‘70s: Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cream, The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Kinks, The Animals, Bob Dylan, and Chuck Berry. And yes, Bruce Springsteen. There are the obvious song choices, but the setlist is also known to include rarities, oddities, and the unexpected: “Highway to Hell” (AC/DC), “I Wanna Be Sedated” (The Ramones), “The Weight” (The Band), “A Summer Song” (Chad & Jeremy). Not only that, but the band has a repertoire of over 200 songs that it can play at a moment’s notice. They take requests, letting the audience help pick the setlist. That, in a nutshell, is a jukebox.
While most of the classic rock in the Jukebox repertoire emanated from the garage rock and AM-radio ethos of the era, The Jefferson Starship represented a slightly different take on what a rock & roll band could do. The Starship emerged around 1972 from the disintegrating Jefferson Airplane, one of the earliest San Francisco psychedelic bands. The scene was entirely different in San Francisco. The aspiring rockers didn’t play in garages or teen fairs; they played old, converted ballrooms, acid tests, and love-ins. They had no idea how to make a record, or what the idea of a rock & roll career was.
The Starship began as a side project by Paul Kantner of the Airplane during a lull in the Airplane’s touring and recording. Blows Against the Empire was a science-fiction-themed album that also included contributions from Grace Slick of the Airplane, David Crosby and Graham Nash, David Freiberg from Quicksilver Messenger Service, and others. (It even won a Hugo award!). A year or two later, the Airplane as it had been since 1965 was falling apart and the new grouping carried on as Jefferson Starship. Ironically, that group had the only No. 1 album of its history, 1975’s Red Octopus.
In classic rock fashion, the long-running rock warhorse ran into business and creative difficulties. Kantner and Airplane co-founder Marty Balin, who had rejoined the Starship, both left and there were legal battles over use of the name Jefferson. The band carried on as just Starship. Today, it’s left to Freiberg, not a member of the Airplane but a charter member of the Starship, to helm the latest installment, which includes members that have played with the Starship since the 1980s, with no signs of slowing down.