Sunday, April 20, 2014
Put The Boot In: Big Brother and the Holding Company w/ Janis Joplin-Avalon Ballroom 1966 'Hall of the Mountain King'
While the recording is in mono and the performance is slightly muddy vocally, it remains relatively clear musically. The energy emanating from the tape is addictive and listened to in the right state of mind, the recording can put you there historically and mentally. The potency of the performance emanates from the magnetic tape, you can smell the smoke, see the light show, and experience the power and grace of the concert.
Big Brother was already well practiced in the art of musical exploration well before Joplin's joining of the band. With Joplin's bluesy sensibilities tugging the elevated Big Brother back to earthy realms, the result became a unique psychedelic blues machine, much like fellow San Fransisco band the Grateful Dead and Joplin pal Pigpen.
'It's a Deal,' a contender for bands debut album speeds along at amphetamine rates, quaking kinetically with a punky attitude. Janis lets loose with perfectly timed interjections as the band moves like a comic colored flip book through the songs changes.
The Sam Andrew penned, 'Call On Me' follows, a hidden jewel in Big Brother's discography. The perfect soul glove slipping perfectly onto Joplin's outstretched hand. The band stoically brings the vibe down, displaying a soulful review. Slightly distorted on the recording, Joplin cuts through the top end distortion with stomach churning vocals. Perfect.
'Combination of the Two' races off of the runway, a streaking runaway rocket disseminating love, detonating into distorted feedback blasts, just before slipping comfortably into the sunny celebratory verse. The second musical guitar excursion convulses with hallucinatory guitar by Houston and Gurley that euphorically spins your head before again dropping into the verse just in time.
Joplin again captures the spotlight in a jar with 'Farewell Song', another sample of a soulful Stax groove, becoming a tribal crawl midway through the song before emerging back into the framework of the tune. Janis spits and screams her way aggressively through the changes using the band as a springboard in which to bounce her fervent preaching.
The Peter Albin penned, almost instrumental jam 'Coo Coo', released as a 1968 single dashes like a tripping surfer racing through transparent walls of sea and foam on their uncontrolled journey to the distant shore. The track bubbles on heavy tom-tom rhythms and excited off mic retorts by band members. Albin's puffy bass drives the plush jam into a freaky peak.The core of the San Fransisco sound can be felt through this captured moment on magnetic tape. The band draped in day- glo, expand and retract as an amoebic image commonplace on the light show stage screens during this era.
A musical juxtaposition occurs as the band follows 'Coo Coo' with the honky-tonk chunky chug of 'Easy Rider,' found on the groups debut LP. Gurley takes on lead vocal duties with support from Joplin through the chunky saddle ride. The band cant help but split open the traditional framework of the song with a exploratory interlude highlighted by a huge fuzzy caterpillar guitar solo by Gurley. This is good time, boogie down music, the epitome of the 'San Fransisco scene', conglomeration of traditional and exploratory music.
The closing number of the groups debut LP, 'All Is Loneliness' is given a shadowy reading here, with twisted rope vocals climbing like vines into cracks and crevasses of the created ancient musical stonework. The song dissolves into a jazzy drum interlude by Getz and then traverses a bass heavy breakdown where Janis lets looses with numerous variations on her vocal ideas.The crowd can be heard encouraging the group as they undulate beneath Joplin's vocal directives. Unfortunately the song cuts off after about 7 minutes, it is unknown how much time may be missing.
The recording picks up with 'Hall of the Mountain King' a highlight of the concert, already slightly in progress, missing its thematic opening. This interpretation of Edvard Greig's classical piece turns into an expansive puddling meltdown of immaculate proportions. Andrews and Gurley reflect contemporary's, Bloomfield and Alvin Bishop from the Butterfield Blues Band with aggressive and cussing guitar duels. Gurley trumpets massive feedback silver explosions from his strings, while Andrews channels obscure and slippery foreign melodies in reply. At three minutes the song starts to swallow everything in its wake, a black hole of blended sounds, almost collapsing on itself, Getz driving, Albin pushing, the guitarists reaching a vast open area, peaking, staying at the peak. Tension continues to build, finally the swell abates at five minutes. The band cruises at an acceptable level while Andrews explores every nuance of the groove. A bit past eight minutes another disorientating location is reached, explored and left behind. The band increases their motion, again sun-bursting into another psychedelic wash, covering the assembled crowd in a warm multicolored symphonic shower. The classical theme reappears from the sonic debris, dissolving and concluding this massively epic performance.
The 42 second song 'Henry' comes next and is a jerky, acid jazz, fast car with failing breaks that tilts on two wheels around San Fransisco corners. Completely original and oh, so unique as you will hear on the recording, should you search it out. This one was a special treat for the people flying 'trans-love airways' in the assembled crowd.
This recently circulating gift of a performance by Janis Joplin and Big Brother is an impeccable capture of a revolutionary time in rock music history. Historically, politically, musically and throughout all of the arts, things were exploding in technicolor fashion. The recording of this evening in 1966 acts as an aural document capturing all of these elements disseminated through the lens of the forebearers of the 'San Fransisco Sound'. The field recording also finds Joplin in the infancy of her career and popularity, backed by a powerhouse of practiced and virtuosic musicians. Don't miss out, hunt down this recording and get your ticket to a musical time machine.
Hall of the Mountain King
Blow My Mind