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Wow! This is BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY the way they should be heard. This night was somehow different. One of those times that happens to good bands (and audiences) every so often. This is the stuff of legend. Something special was happening right before your eyes and ears. A couple of songs in and you just knew. Everything came together into one overwhelming sonic experience-one of those special nights when everything was right. The late Chet Helms was right in 1966, adding Joplin into this band that felt they needed a powerful singer. Both Janis Joplin and the band (especially James Gurley's guitar work) are so connected, so in tune with each other and the music, that this particular night stands as one of their best shows-period. The band came to play-no aimless noodling or overwrought vocals, on that summer evening in 1968 (shortly before the band broke apart), at the Carousel Ballroom.

It's interesting to think that around the same time when this concert was recorded, the album "Sex, Dope, and Cheap Thrills" (soon titled just "Cheap Thrills") was being readied (final mixing went 36 hours straight) for release. Like many "live" (or partially live) albums, it was tinkered with. The audience noise on the "live" tracks wasn't authentic-it was people screaming and clapping in the studio. The opening introduction from (the late) Bill Graham was added in the studio. But the album did capture some of the feel (along with the help of R. Crumb's artwork) of the band live-but not like this new album.

Joplin's vocals are transcendent-full of emotion, and sex, and pain. The band is right there with Joplin at every twist and turn. David Getz' (he was also a Fulbright Fellow and art teacher at S.F. Art Institute) straightforward drumming lays down an insistent groove. Peter Albin's (he was a postman for a time supporting his family) bass playing is in just the right spot-adding to the underlying rhythm for added depth. Sam Andrew's (who held a degree in linguistics and would read the classics in their original languages) guitar and vocals (especially) fit Joplin's vocals and the music like a glove. And James Gurley's (who also had a wife and a child named Hongo) sometimes Coltrane/Coleman inspired guitar playing is on another level entirely-visceral and excitingly sharp-and a perfect complement to Joplin's (who always felt she was a disappointment to her family) impassioned vocals. Something like a sonic foil to her raw, pleading vocals.

It's impossible to single out favorite tunes-they all have so much power and emotion-vocally and instrumentally. Nevertheless, some (for me) highlights. Beginning with a fiery "Combination Of The Two", you know you're in for something special. "I Need A Man To Love" is Joplin telling you in no uncertain terms what she wants and needs-with the band following every vocal nuance. "Light Is Faster Than Sound", besides being a great 60's ballroom dance tune, has the first of this night's evidence, of Gurley's Coltrane inspired guitar playing-edgy and rough but controlled. "Summertime" is one of the best (if not the best) versions the band ever released. "Call On Me" is likewise one of the best tracks out of many. After announcing that the cops are going to start towing the Hell's Angel's bikes, so they better get out on the street and claim them before it's too late, the band begins to lay down a tough groove on "Jam-I'm Mad (Mad Man Blues)". It's on this tune (which most people will remember from John Lee Hooker's recording) that Gurley's Coltrane inspired playing is really evident. This is raggedly right, psychedelic, blues based rock 'n' roll. This is what the S.F. ballroom experience was all about-hot, joyous jamming-the music ebbing and flowing at will.

"Piece Of My Heart" is so full of energy-Joplin belting it out for all she's worth, Getz' martial style drumming keeps things grounded, Albin's bass is earth shaking, and Gurley's guitar is white hot with barely contained intensity. "Coo-Coo" is the band's version of S.F. style surf music-the deep, penetrating bass, the maracas weaving in and out, the vocal interjections, and (once again), Gurley's guitar is what people think of when they think late 60's, S.F. live music. And then Joplin kicks up the energy with a short vocal-which inspires Gurley and the band to pick up the tempo and intensity, until it's all finally released after almost 6 1/2 minutes.

"Ball And Chain" is simply on another level. Previously released live versions had their good points. But from the start the band is tight, the playing alternating between fierce power and subtle build up. Joplin's vocal is intense with yearning and pain, and when Gurley echoes her pain wracked vocals-you know you're experiencing the band on one of their best nights-ever. For Joplin/Big Brother fans, this is nine minutes of an incredible, draining performance. The night's set comes to a close with "Down On Me", with all the energy and instrumental firepower this band is capable of delivering. "Call On Me", from the previous night, shows how the band could change a song's feel-compare both versions and you'll hear what I mean.

About the recording itself. This is the complete (approximately 71 minutes) concert as recorded on Stanley's Nagra tape machine. There's no "sweetening" afterward in the studio. As Owsley Stanley said-this is a true concert recording-warts and all-be ready to hear a couple of short sonic anomalies. There's no remixing, no editing (except crowd noise), or alterations whatsoever from the original recording. Stanley oversaw the mastering for this release (which originally came out in 1972 as a double album) to ensure we hear it as he intended. Some won't like it-to each his own. The sound is a "non-stereo mix"-the vocals and drums are on one side, the other instruments are on the other side. Stanley did this on purpose-he wanted to keep intact the sound and feel of being in front of the band in the ballroom. He used omni-directional microphones to capture spill-over, which blends both sides slightly. It states in the (nicely done) booklet to move your speakers close together in order to hear the concert the way Stanley intended. Doing so creates a unique sweet spot (different from stereo), that gives the impression of being in the hall, hearing the band live. Loud is even better.

I have to admit doing so does rekindle some long held, hazily dormant, yet fine recollections of being inside the hall, with a few hundred friends-who are passing bottles of wine (both straight and "electric"), small squares of "special" paper ("just put it on your tongue"), and funny looking cigarettes, up and down the line-not that I was partaking-everybody grooving to the music. What a time for both the band and the audience in the very last days of peace/love/tie-die/flowers-after this it was speed/heroin/overdoses/rip-offs. Joplin and the band were a force to be reckoned with, and they played with an almost intuitive intensity. When they were "on", they were unstoppable. You could feel something different in the air, something special when they really had it together. Nothing sloppy, every note and chord, every passionate vocal nuance was put out there, and was soaked up by stunned listeners. On the most powerful tunes I remember as the sound pushed against you-washed over and through you-as you stood there, momentarily transfixed, oblivious to what's happening around you. If you were lucky enough to witness this band during it's prime, you know what I mean. If not, this will give you an idea of what it was like. The very atmosphere seemed charged (even with no "extra" help) with something special-undefinable-you could sense it in the air. Like the best Owsley acid, this is an intense experience, yet everything flows along as it was meant to do.

But, luckily, you don't need anything artificial to get blown away by this incendiary set. The power, the force, is palpable. This is what people mean when they describe Joplin's power and emotion being unlike anyone else. And the band-sometimes described as ragged and crude-are easily Joplin's equal. Anyone with a passion for late 60's S.F. Rock needs to hear this. I know for a fact that Bear recorded a number of concerts of artists he liked-in several genres. Hopefully the tapes have survived, and we'll be hearing more soon.
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on April 19, 2012
I've seen people pan this CD for a variety of reasons -- sound quality, spotty performance... I don't get it. It's not a "live album" per se, those are generally touched up in a studio. Read the liner notes: this is an untouched, un-remixed recording exactly as it happened, "warts and all" as Owsley says. Intended originally as a reference for band and soundman, not for release. As such it is an amazing historical document -- follow Bear's instructions on how to listen properly and it is revelatory.
Sure, some vocals stray from the harmonies, but bear in mind this was before the days of stage monitors -- the sound comes off as somewhat primitive because the GEAR was all so primitive! I'd call it primal instead, and on that level -- WOW. Poor playing? I would direct your attention to the chorused "waterfall" guitar in Summertime, really sublime. The band may not be one "for the ages" without Janis, but they were certainly perfect "for the moment" and created something that is still worth hearing -- and celebrating.
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on March 23, 2012
As always it is nice to have another Janis Joplin/Big Brother live recording (or in this case, it is really Big Brother with Janis show). The previous release "Live at Winterland, 1968" has much more going for it than this recording:

- more interesting selection of songs (including an early version of "Piece of my heart")
- easier to listen to mix (rather than the awkward mono/left right mix of this album
- better booklet that includes a copy of handwritten material by Janis
- a great cover (the new one does not really look like Janis, as good as the art is)

If you are interested in earlier live material (1966/1967) try, the previous release,"Lost Tapes by Big Brother & The Holding Company". This is a great listen, even if parts of it are not quite as well recorded. It includes "Amazing grace", where Janis and the band deconstruct the song and give us a mix of gospel/punk/psychedelia/rock and roll. There is nothing quite like it on this new release. I would urge you to consider buying the "Live at Winterland" or "Lost Tapes" first and then PERHAPS the "Carousel" show. The "Carousel" release is certainly not the place to start if you want prime early live Joplin.

A side note, the European release of "Lost Tapes" (called "Ball and Chain" a Charly release) includes two cd rom videos.
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on June 1, 2012
Technically not as professional as the half live "Cheap Thrills", bombs away "Winterland" or dynamic "Monterey Pop". What "At The Carousel" has going for it is a concert where I felt like I was standing 20 feet from the stage. Soundman Bear by keeping the imperfections of monitors going off, speakers pounding off the floor and screechy guitars is bring the ultimate ballroom show right back to one's home. Janis and Big Brother And The Holding Company do what they do best - grinding "Freak Out"/Blues Rock. Because of the separation not at all for headset listening. The band is very much ON. Big Brother live always got the most out of Janis because she had to raise the level of her voice to match the power of this group. All the songs are top notch except "Ball And Chain" where I've heard BBHC exceed the version offered here. Still it blows away anything "Full Tilt" ever tried to do on this song. I put "At The Carousel" in the mode of The Doors "Detroit" and Allman Brothers "Ludlow Garage", as in loose, live and legitimate. Another fine release by the Janis Joplin estate who have not abused the the money at all costs angle used by the camps of Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors.
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on March 28, 2012
I now have had the chance to have a good listen to this CD. It arrived in some decent packaging, thank you amazon.com.
The sound is stunning as highlighted on prior reviews, one thing that some listeners may find a bit odd is the mix is PA in one Chanel and other instruments in the second Chanel giving us a 3D type sound effect. It works well and is an aquired taste.
I find it enjoyable in my living room, perhaps not so in the car.
The performance is very good with the odd bum note and miss cue, but hey it's the 60s man, the music and enthusiasm is what this is all about. I am very happy with this CD, as a brilliant example of the spirit and power of Janis and the music of San Fransicso in 1968.
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on March 2, 2013
A lot of reviews jumped all over this because of the sound recording. Well, I'm here to to you that the sound reproduction simply isn't that bad. It's 45 years old! No, it doesns't measure to high quality live releases, but it was never meant to. It is quite listenable, although admittedly a bit raw. But so was Janis. I probably would only recommend this to the serious Janis collector, but it captures the essence of her sound during this time period and as such deserves a listen.
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on March 20, 2012
A few songs from these tapes were released back in the 1970's on the "Joplin in Concert" album, but now, here's one complete show, and a bonus track recorded the next day. Most of the best songs from the group's two albums with Janis Joplin were performed at these shows, and some other songs that were (at the time) unavailable on record.

You'll immediately notice a rather unusual stereo picture with the vocals coming out of the left speaker, and instruments coming out of both speakers. The overall sound is reasonable for a non-professional(I.E. not multitrack) recording. Occasionally, the sound mix gets a bit chaotic, but then again, so does the group's playing. But, there's more great performances than bad ones, notably a superb rendition of "Ball & Chain" and an interesting blues jam.

But, I should advise you, that due to a disc-damaging cardboard used in this disc's packaging, don't expect the disc to be in perfect condition. I returned the first copy that I received because it was appallingly scratched. The replacement is somewhat better, though still not in good condition. Yes, the disc will play, but "new" product should not look like this.
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on April 12, 2012
I LOVE The San Francisco Sound from The '60's . Always have. I saw The Grateful Dead at The Filmore West when I was 16 and things just haven't been the same since. I look for any release of this era and this CD really makes it. Janis' Voice is on fire. She can scream " PIECE OF MY HEART " or whisper a lullaby like "SUMMERTIME" This is Janis Joplin at her peak at THE CAROUSEL BALLROOM , an early San Francisco venue run by Chet Helms. Janis was Janis, but Janis with BIG BROTHER was a GODDESS. It was THE SOUND. Sam Houston Andrew could wail his guitar, paralleling her voice and pushing it higher. The SOUND filled the room like grape Jello in a mold. Like I said ~ I LOVE IT.
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on April 16, 2012
If you do, you will be rewarded with the highest quality live sound you'll ever hear from this band, period. If you don't, you may find yourself scratching your head and wondering what the fuss and fanfare was about. I was always frustrated with the way Flower in the Sun and Summertime sounded on Joplin in Concert. Now I know why. For that release, Owsley's material, recorded in Owsley's stubborn, meticulous manner, was re-mixed for a conventional stereo sound and severely compromised. Now, you get the whole concert with no compromises. Take the time to push your speakers together! That said, I have to say that Combination of the Two and Ball and Chain were better performed at the Winterland concert that was released a few years ago. Also, it is disappointing that the intro to Combination is missing. On the other hand, this is the one time they nailed Catch me Daddy to the wall and made it stick. All of the rest of this album should greatly please those familiar with more than just Cheap Thrills. I have all of Big Brother's albums and have heard them live many times. This is Big Brother at their best. This is also Janis's voice captured live with crystal clarity.
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on March 1, 2013
For many years I believed Cheap Thrills was a 'live' album .. but not so. THIS is the live album recorded during the Cheap Thrills era in San Fransisco. The song lineup is right off of Cheap Thrills, except this album (cd) includes many additional songs. It's the way Big Brother with Janis really sounded ... a real fun find.
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