Starship, replacing Pat Benatar at fair, makes sure audience doesn’t have a bad date

Last updated: September 30, 2021 - 8:02am

Your dream date to the prom stands you up at the last moment, and a girl you’ve barely thought of agrees to go. It might not have been what you thought you wanted, but darned if you don’t have a good time — and who knows, maybe a better time.

That was the story Wednesday, when Pat Benatar pulled out of her show at Bloomsburg Fair grandstand, only to be replaced by 1980s Jefferson Airplane legacy band Starship.

Starship, now down to original singer Mickey Thomas and five other members who have been with him nine to 26 years, wasn’t Benatar. But its 16-song, 90-minute show was entertaining enough to make sure the night wasn’t a loss.

It helped that Thomas played the position the band was in perfectly.

“Obviously, I’m not Pat Benatar,” he said after the band opened with the Jefferson Starship song “Layin’ It on the Line.” “But I’m glad to be here. We had to jump through some hoops to get here.” (Benatar canceled, citing “upper respiratory illness unrelated to COVID,” just 28 hours before the show.)

Starship dove into the hits early, playing its 1979 hit “Jane” ­— Jefferson Starship’s first hit after Thomas joined the band that year — and one of its harder-rocking offerings. The song showed that Thomas, nearing 72 with a gray beard and wearing sunglasses, has lost some nuances in his voice, but — like the rest of the band — still wasn’t bad in a broad sense. He especially was able to hit the high notes.

The 1985 gold hit “Sara” was diminished, but still pretty good — a fit for Thomas’s range.

And then the band played its 1987 No. 1 gold hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” which Thomas acknowledged was a turning point into pop for the band. It was mostly sung by female singer Stephanie Calvert, who, of course is no Grace Slick (who else is?), but the song also was surprisingly good.

The 1987 Top 10 hit “It’s Not Over (Til It’s Over)” was a pleasant surprise, capturing the synth sound that ruled the late ’80s. And even the slower 1988 minor hit “Set the Night to Music,” while not as successful, had some of the night’s better guitar — showing how each of Starship’s songs seemed to have something to offer. Similarly, late in the show the 1981 minor hit “Stranger” offered a strong rhythm section.

Starship had its biggest run 1985-89, released just three albums with its original lineup and had just six Top 25 songs. But as Thomas noted, being the legacy band to Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, “we do have a history.”

And the concert traded on that history — playing several songs that pre-dated Thomas’s involvement (he joined the band in 1979).

“White Rabbit,” Jefferson Airplane’s biggest hit, probably fell short the most — Calvert having to sing Slick at her best. The instrumentation also didn’t reach the level of the original.

The 1975 Jefferson Starship hit “Miracles,” one of its best songs, should have been a highlight centerpiece, but was played too broadly and was just OK. Its equally good 1978 hit “Count On Me” was better.

But Jefferson Airplane’s iconic 1967 hit “Somebody to Love” again fell far short, though Calvert seemed to try hard. But the audience seemed to love it, and it got the night’s biggest cheer.

Thomas made “I Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” the 1975 song he made a hit with Elvin Bishop, the show’s centerpiece, stretching it to six minutes. But it was a stretch for a Starship show.

The band closed with its biggest hit, the 1985 No. 1 gold “We Built This City.” It, too, was overly broad, but still was catchy and motivated the crowd to sing along gleefully with its 1980s vibe.

The band saved some of the best for the encore, starting with a two-minute piano solo that became the 1981 Jefferson Starship hit “Find Your Way Back.” Thomas’s high tenor nailed it. And “Rock Music,” stretched to seven minutes, closed the show.

The night’s mood was perfectly captured when, late in the show, an audience member yelled out for the 1986 minor hit “Tomorrow Doesn’t Matter,” and though it wasn’t on the band’s set list, Thomas complied with a minute-long a cappella version.

It was like that substitute prom date doing everything she could to try to please you.

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