The San Francisco ballroom scene of the mid- to late-60s produced some genuinely legendary groups — Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape among them. But for every band that went onto stardom, there were dozens of other outfits that never hit the big time, who simply became names on posters for shows at the Fillmore. For decades, Crystal Syphon has been one of those names. But thanks to a recent release on Roaratorio Records, the group finally emerges from the mist — and they’re better than anyone could have expected.
Made up of studio, live and rehearsal recordings cut between 1967 and 1970, Family Evil is a “lost masterpiece” that actually lives up to the hype — an LP that deserves a space next to the other classics of the era on your shelf — Quicksilver’s Happy Trails, the Dead’s Anthem of the Sun, the Airplane’s Bathing at Baxter’s and the first Moby Grape release. The Grape might be the closest comparison sonically, but Crystal Syphon mines an altogether darker vein on the ten tracks here, with doomy organ work, minor key melodies and tortured fuzz guitar. The band is tight and uptight, with lyrics to match. Bad trips abound! In a good way. The live stuff that closes out the LP, recorded at the Fillmore West, suggests that they brought the goods to the stage as well. There are hints that Family Evil is just the tip of the Crystal Syphon archive iceberg. Let’s hope so. words/ t wilcox