This 71-minute sonic document was recorded and produced by the late Owsley "Bear" Stanley (famed personal soundman to the Grateful Dead), who stated, shortly before he died last year, "I believe this album will be hailed as the definitive Big Brother live album of all time."
I think he's correct. Even before I pulled out the booklet and read the notes, I was already thinking that I’d never heard lead singer Janis Joplin sound so explosive.
Not even the odd mix, with vocals and drums in one channel and other instruments in the other channel, can dim the vividness of this performance (it helps to push your speakers together, eliminating separation). She and the band perform with great freedom and intensity; one suspects they had little or no idea that this night (Sunday, June 23) would live on in posterity -- Owsley only recorded shows on a two-track recorder to give himself a way of learning how to improve the sound in the club (which would soon be renamed the Fillmore West), where he was resident soundman and constantly looked to upgrade the sound equipment.
Just two months from their breakup, Big Brother had keenly honed their collaboration far past any experimental stage, confident enough to take chances. If there are occasional sloppy bits, well, so what? It's better to hear the band living on the edge rather than playing it safe. Lead guitarist James Gurley was having a particularly good night.
Some of this material was released on the 1972 double-LP collection Joplin in Concert, in altered form; Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968 presents a complete night's set in the order it happened, the music utterly unedited and unremixed. There's also a bonus track from the previous night, "Call on Me," which shows how different the same song could sound from one night to the next. Even though you’ve heard them do most of these songs, you’ve never heard them like this. Anyone with even the slightest in the San Francisco scene has to hear this. It's also being released on 180-gram vinyl. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based editor, poet, and composer. Early this month he edited and mixed the recording of his song cycle setting five of James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach, which can be heard here.