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Big Brother & the Holding Company "Live at Carousel Ballroom" (1968) review

Big Brother & the Holding Company "Live at Carousel Ballroom" (Music On Vinyl, 1968/2013)

The first thing that struck me about this live recording was that I thought (initially at least, from the sound and vibrations that came off the Monterey-wowing, cheap thrillin’ opener ‘Combination Of The Two’) was that this was probably gonna be pretty much bootleg-style quality, and therefore I also gauged that it would no doubt be a little underwhelming hi-fidelity wise. But listening on, I soon began to warm to the whole deal. It’s actually been quite some time since I listened in to this group at any length. I did used to be quite into Big Brother and the whole Janis scene back in the early 80s; me in my late teens absorbing just about anything I could lay my hands on from the far off, and yes pretty far out sixties, of which the San Francisco scene, of course, loomed very large in my adolescent thinking.
By the time of this here Carousel Ballroom show there’s a real sense one gets that BB&THC would’ve been pretty much at the peak of their collective prowess, with the intuitive groove happening between each other’s playing strengths totally apparent. Yeah I know, some people out there believe the group to have been one of the most sloppiest ensemble’s within what was already a very loose type of musical conurbation indeed; yet also a very dynamic, and incredibly diverse arena of talent too. Well OK, maybe there’s quite a few grains of truth in that former statement, at least some of the time anyway, but I’m not sure BB&THC are always so deserving of such negativity, and let’s face it the same could be said of a lot of the more improvisational-heavy groups doing the rounds at the time and who, especially, liked to get high a lot while playing. Take your pick! So, yeah, back to the plot, I particularly like the rasping rawness that immediately cuts through when guitarists Sam Andrew, and especially I think James Gurley, get the chance to gallop to the front where they can really let loose with some fret-blazing action.

Janis too is on fine form throughout and seems not to be as self-absorbed as she certainly could be, as even I (a Janis Joplin fan for the most part) can get a little tired of the over-used, over-emotional, over-repeated use of “No no no no no …”’ and “tell me baby baby baby b-b-b-b-b-b-b-baby it just, it just, it just caaaaaaaaaaan’t be” type exhortations that can sometimes fill up the spaces within many a Joplin/Big Brother excursion. Of course it wouldn't be Joplin if there was none of those quirky vocal personality traits on display, but, thankfully, they’re not all so over-wrought here and on the whole come across sounding a lot more natural and, therefore, I find that I can just get into it a lot more easily.

Of the more obvious selections the group perform here, there’s an odd, kind of take-it-or-leave-it rendering of their staple ‘Summertime’, while, contrastingly, during the performance of their tough belter chart smash ‘Piece Of My Heart’ the group sound totally hungry for it and consequently seem to really rock it out a lot more, bringing a thoroughly raw style in the process which is most welcome. ‘Ball and Chain’ is somewhat subdued here (and perhaps all the better for it), and the likes of ‘Down On Me’, the excellent ‘Coo Coo’ and the reflective ‘Call On Me’ ain’t none too shabby either, the latter being aired twice, with one version culled from another night showing up as a bonus. The mad blues jam, a rambunctious ‘Catch Me Daddy’ and crowd pleaser ‘Light Is Faster Than Sound’ are also among the set’s highly appealing features.

Review made by Lenny Helsing/2013
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