From the moment Cathy Richardson launches into the 2020 Jefferson Starship single “It’s About Time,” listeners are wrapped in an exceptional manifesto.
Written by Richardson, guitarist Jude Gold and the legendary Grace Slick, the lyrics draw from 1960s vintage, with the urgency of a world on the brink and the promising spirit of change. Despite outlining a litany of modern problems, from the proliferation of school shootings to global warming, the musical tone is upbeat.
The lead singer for Jefferson Starship is aware of what they have achieved. “‘It’s About Time’ says it all in one very succinct song – and it’s a catchy song,” she explains. “That’s not to say we’re not angry about things, but we wanted a message of hope.”
Richardson admits to making the same assumption as many Americans, especially with the election of Barack Obama. Some writers at the time even dared to speak of a post-racial society. Richardson did not become encouraged to speak out through the band’s music until the deep threads of rancor and resentment in America and elsewhere were clearly exposed.
Still, in the singles from the 2020 album Mother of the Sun, Richardson and the band refuse to succumb to anger. “What Are We Waiting For?” derides those peddling division, lies and hate, but closes with a call to the better angels of our nature: “We can do better / Yes, let’s get together.”
“What Are We Waiting For?” was the second release from Mother of the Sun, but the first song they completed. “It’s still my favorite,” Richardson says. “It’s a call to say, ‘let’s do something about our problems.’”
Favorite or not, it is likely to be relegated to encore material when the band – Richardson, with Gold, founding member David Freiberg, drummer Donny Baldwin and bassist Chris Smith – appear at Sunset Center in Carmel on Thursday, Sept. 22. Any band with a legacy as rich as Jefferson Starship also has an inherent problem. The collection of singles – dating back to the formation of precursor Jefferson Airplane in 1965 – exceeds any realistic setlist. “[The audience] should expect a great evening of the greatest hits of the Jefferson canon,” Richardson says, adding the band also loves an open-ended set. “Let’s jam – that’s the most fun. When you go off script, that’s the best part.”
Veteran groups can be forced to tread water by their catalog. But Jefferson Starship has wriggled free. “The music has evolved, but the music is so powerful,” Richardson points out.
The singles released from the 2020 album are stark in intent, but engaging in presentation, they find the ethos of ’60s demands for change and ’80s pop, bring them to our torn-up world and give them a call for action.
One point of emphasis in “It’s About Time’’ is captured in the line “Old white men have had their turn / Thousands of years what have we learned.”
Richardson shrugs off the irony of singing this on a stage with old white men. “They agree,” she says with a laugh.
JEFFERSON STARSHIP plays at 8pm Thursday, Sept. 22. Sunset Center, San Carlos and 9th, Carmel. $50-$85. 620-2048, sunsetcenter.org