Monday, July 11, 2016

Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company Live at Winterland '68

Yes, I've been on a bit of a Joplin kick since I watched the Little Girl Blue documentary the other day so I pulled out this Big Brother live set again. As I've said, I have always loved the psychedelic madness'n'noise that this combo would create while backing Janis' blues wails. While the Cheap Thrills record was an excellent and concise set of some of their best material, this collection gives us more of an overview of their set at their height.

Opening with her woman's anthem, "Down on Me", we get the power and wildness of the group right away, which moves into the drum-propelled (David Gets) blues of "Flower in the Sun". Sam Andrew and James Gurley's twin guitar attack is in full swing in the fantastic "Need a Man to Love", complimented by everyone's combined backing vocals. The old-timey "Bye Bye Baby" and goofy "Easy Rider" are non-essential, though ya gotta dig Peter Albin's bass solo in the latter! More guitar madness in the incredible "Combination of the Two" and a sweet blues in "Farewell Song", which also includes fan-fuzz-tastic guitars.

"Piece of My Heart" is so intrinsically tied to Janis that it's difficult to remember that she didn't write it, and this performance is another stellar reading of this classic number, with an exceptional guitar solo. She gets in some bluesy shrieks'n'shouts and some almost-scatting in the frantic "Catch Me Daddy" and then there's the melodic, mid-tempo "Magic of Love". Of course, Big Brother's take on "Summertime" is damn near magical, with intricate guitar interplay ranging from the beautiful to the intensely raw and Janis alternating between crooning and howling - I don't think there's a better version ever recorded of this sweet blues tune and this performance shows how tight'n'talented Big Brother really were. I always dug the psychedelic "Light Is Faster Than Sound" from their debut record and this is a frenzied version with an extended jam that precedes the group's other incredibly dynamic monster, their cover of Big Mama Thornton's "Ball and Chain" - if anything, the musicians and Janis are all even more extraordinary on this number than even on "Summertime". This is just all-consuming and breath-taking! I'm sorry but that guitar just transports me every goddam time. I'm not sure why this collection closes with another (somewhat elongated) take on "Down on Me" but it's also great so who can complain?

With a large'n'lovely booklet with tons of pics, interviews and info, this is pretty much a must-have collection for any Joplin fans.