Recorded on July 28, 1966, before the band had cut any studio material, this performance was one of Janis Joplin's first gigs with Big Brother. The sound is decent, with several famous staples of their repertoire already in place: "Down on Me," "Coo-Coo," and "Ball and Chain." Yet, in comparison with their best studio and live recordings from 1967 and 1968, this is a bit limp. Big Brother was never noted for their polish, but made up for that with reckless bravado; however, that's largely missing at this juncture in their development, which finds them sounding somewhat tentative in their adaptation of R&B and garage band ethos to heavy guitar arrangements. Big Brother was never noted for their songwriting ability either, and this set is pretty reliant on R&B staples like "Let the Good Times Roll" and "I Know You Rider"; the unabashedly psychedelic workout "Gutra's Garden" hasn't aged well at all. Joplin's vocals are fairly strong, but these early versions of "Down on Me" and, especially, "Ball and Chain" don't hold a candle to her performances of the same tunes at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Other members of the band take the lead vocal on a few numbers, emphatically proving -- as they always did when given a chance -- that Joplin was necessary to put them on the map. This show is an interesting glimpse into the group's formative days, though, and features eight songs not on their late-'60s albums. This set of material was first released in 1984 as Cheaper Thrills, and since then it's been around on various labels under various titles. The 2002 Varese Sarabande edition differs from previous iterations only in that it adds a live version of "Hall of the Mountain King," recorded at television station KQED in San Francisco on April 25, 1967 (a pretty cool cut, though it's been long available as part of the Ball and Chain video, which includes the entire half-hour set). AMG.
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