Thursday, April 17, 2008

Big Brother and the Holding Company-LIVE THRILLS CD (Big Svr, bootleg); TRIBAL STOMP CD (Head Germany, bootleg)

I know I have a number of new-to-grace-mine-ears recordings that I'm sure most of you avid readers would want to know all about and the sooner the better, but in its 'stead I thought I'd just re-acquaint myself, as well as the gathered COMM-sters amongst us, with this review of a couple now-rare bootleg disques of value and worth that've been hitting the ol' Cee-Dee launching pad as of late. Spurred on by my review of the Deviants/Pink Fairies book a couple days back, I decided to stretch way deep down into my collection for these two Big Brother and the Holding Company platters if only to remind myself of what the Amerigan side of psychedelia could come up with on a good day, and naturally these solid sons (and daughter) of ol' San Fran don't let me down one bit, not even a smidgen! And believe-it-or-not, but mentioning this not-so-obscure fact especially to a rabble-roused bunch as you readers most certainly are is quite a surprise coming from my fingertips because a good time back the mere sight of Big Brother, especially that of twisted guitarist James Gurley with a feather in his hair, was more than enough to make me do a little vomiting in order to cleanse the system of dinge overload! My how times have changed!!!

LIVE THRILLS is a hodgepodge of various Big Brother tracks supposedly taken from Marty Balin's Matrix club in '67, and despite the weak sound (and the tendency not to play on various home entertainment systems) I find these performances rather breathtaking. Big Brother, despite their tacky "hippie" name and associations with the more counter of the counterculture scammers of the time, were frankly a pretty head-on avant-rock group, almost on the same plane as such late-sixties stompers as the MC5 and even fellow Friscans Blue Cheer. And although Gurley surely would have been put to much better use had his family stayed in Detroit and he joined some hot combo there I must say that his shattering leads are more than enough to make any true pal of the late-sixties crunch brigade sit up and take notice. Too bad the locals were always dumping on these guys, for they really were too good for SF just like Moby Grape and of course Blue Cheer not forgetting the Flamin' Groovies who seemed way out of the West Coast hippie loop anyways. In a just world, one mighty solo from Gurley would have been enough to have the soon-to-be-burned hippie populace of the place mutter "Jerry Who???", but as we all know the entire place went from hip to hack in such a short time along with the clientele of the ballroom scene for that sorry matter.

And as for Janis...well, I used to hate the mangy dyke just like you did, but after a good quarter-century (or at least until after I read Lester Bangs' praiseworthy mention of Big Brother in his "Roots of Punk" article that NEW WAVE ROCK published back in '78) I shamefully must admit that yeah, I have grown strangely accustomed to her voice. Not exactly her face, but then again my mug ain't exactly the stuff of dreams either and I sure can empathize with Janis for the way she was treated by school kids and all of those haughty types who voted her the ugliest broad on the campus back in the early sixties. Sure the lady didn't look like Bardot nor sing like Maria Callas, but you can bet your bottom dollar that all those cubesville dorks who did their best to make Janis feel as low as she did were eating their hearts out when she began making ten times as much as they ever would! (OK, I "swiped" that from Eddie Haskell, but can you think of a better philosopher to swipe from???)

Despite the so-so sound and hit-or-miss ability to spin on your boom box, LIVE THRILLS is a winner from the great track selection (including showstoppers such as "Ball and Chain" complete with that heart-drilling Gurley lead) to the rarities like "Flower in the Sun" and "Road Block" which I fund just as uplifting as the offically-released stuff. And not only that, but the R. Crumb-appropriated cover is one of the best I've seen adapted to the bootleg format yet!

TRIBAL STOMP unfortunately does not have that great Family Dog jam (recorded at the second Family Dog Tribal Stomp in '67, 'natch!) where Big Brother, Quicksilver and the Oxford Circle all joined together to create this beaut of a feedback drone chant, but it's still more'n worthy of your time and effort to seek. Mostly taken from FM broadcasts the sound is pretty good, and although the performances are taken from performances after the band's big Monterrey putsch when Janis pretty much overtook the entire shebang you'll still get your share of the band (as a major part of what the act was still about), such as on the great redo of Howlin' Wolf's "Moanin' at Midnight" where Sam Andrews gets a chance to finally show off some of his vocal abilities for the first time since Big Brother more or less became Janis' "backing band". And even though this "is" Big Brother being presented to you as a top draw major label well-produced outfit thankfully they do kick jamz a'plenty, or at least enough to give you those long-gone high energy chills like you always got listening to the best and brightest in all forms of music extant.

Dunno about you, but these booties only make me want to hear more, such as my Eyetalian two-LP "semi-official" set which features the group summer '66 right after Janis hitched up and hadn't yet the opportunity to run roughshod over everyone, not to mention dig up and re-watch that DVD documentary of Big Brother which has all of the early spark and flash of the group recorded for KQED right before the bunch hit it gigundo. And while I'm at it, has anyone spotted that bootleg of pre-Janis recordings that are s'posed to be the ultimo in what sort of crazed avant rock SF could put out when it set its mind on it? I never saw it offered for sale anywhere, but I was told about it from some guy who spotted it in a Philadelphia record shop in '90 and didn't know enough to pick the thing up! (He wasn't even a fan of the group, so maybe I could forgive him!) Almost as frustrating as the whereabouts of that two-LP Pere Ubu live in London bootleg that another acquaintance saw in the basement of Record Revolution in Cleveland Heights back in late-'80 but neglected to pick up as well. I have the feeling both tricksters were making these records up just to get my curiosity piqued to critical level, but really I will not rest until the mystery of both of these offerings is cleared up to my satisfaction. That and until Dave Lang is finally castrated, but that's another post for another day, unnerstan'?

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