Uncut (magazine) (p.95) - "No one could have known it, but this was one of the last blinding flashes of the original psychedelic era....LIVE AT THE CAROUSEL BALLROOM 1968 offers a trenchant if temporary trip back."
The first entry in the Bear's Sonic Journals series is, without question, a stunner. "Bear" (Augustus Owsley Stanley III), the Grateful Dead's live soundman, built and manned the sound system at the Carousel Ballroom. He personally supervised this previously unreleased effort (items from it have appeared on the Joplin box with crummy sound) shortly before his untimely death in an automobile accident in 2011. (He even provides listening instructions via a brief liner essay -- one of a number of them -- including an excellent historical one from Jaan Uhelszki). There were no stage monitors then (something Bear would later pioneer); the band had to listen to the echo back from the room, the P.A., and amplifier sound to cue pitch. Here, vocals and drums are in the left channel, guitars and bass in the right -- no melding. The effect is electrifying; it's exactly what one would experience as an audience member. The sound is warm, immediate, raw; full of intricacies, small flaws, and rough spots that make the performance singular. This is Big Brother still very much performing as a unit, recorded on June 23, 1968 shortly after finishing sessions for Cheap Thrills, whose release occurred two months later. They're comfortable enough with one another here to trust each others' instincts. Joplin's vocals are the centerpiece, but the wild, wooly, psychedelic rock of Big Brother -- James Gurley and Sam Andrew on guitars, bassist Peter Albin, and drummer Dave Getz -- is the engine that propels that singular voice to the heights it needs to soar to. Andrew takes alternate duet and backing vocals regularly; the rest of the band chimes in on the backing ones too. The disc begins with "Combination of the Two," with Joplin and Andrew taking turns on the vocal and a truly incendiary and wildly inventive guitar solo from Gurley. The vocal play continues on "I Need a Man to Love." Joplin's reading is subtle enough to let the blues drench the tune amid the revved sonics. "Summertime" is every bit as lovely as and more soulful than the one on Cheap Thrills. "Catch Me Daddy" is a revelation of jazzy psychedelic blues. The two versions of "Call on Me" (one from Sunday night) are radically different from one another. "Piece of My Heart" features some lithe vocalizing in the verse from Joplin we haven't heard before. But the true highlights here are Albin's "Coo Coo," an acid-drenched instrumental, and "Ball and Chain," in what may be its definitive recorded performance. Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968 is easily the finest gig from Big Brother & the Holding Company yet released, and it's a fitting tribute to Bear's inventive legacy. ~ Thom Jurek.
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- Cheap Thrills/Pearl (Joplin, Janis)