The Woodstock Experience
Columbia / Legacy, 2009
REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/18/2009
My personal Woodstock Experience began about five years after the actual event, after a viewing of the Woodstock documentary film. I recall it well, as I was stunned at what I was seeing, having never really seen a live performance of any band at my tender age. I was first impressed by how many of the acts came from my home territory in the Bay Area: Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Sly & The Family Stone, The Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival, just to name a few. One important bit of osmosis for me came from my initial exposure to electric blues. The performances of Alvin Lee and Jimi Hendrix particularly floored me. I’d never heard (or seen) playing like that. Additionally, I was blown away by the performance of
The Woodstock Experience is a double-disc that captures Janis’s entire performance, some of which has never been previously released. A second disc contains her entire debut album as a solo artist, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!
Towards the end of her run with Big Brother And The Holding Company, she had begun to incorporate more R&B into her music, fusing it nicely with her blues roots. This colors both Kozmic Blues and her live performance, delivering a strong Stax/Volt flavor with more funky grooves propelled by a full horn section. The opening songs from her live set, “Raise Your Hand” and “As Good As You’ve Been To This World,” are a sweet fusion of blues and funk. The best example of this is the smooth “Try (Just A Little Bit Harder).”
Janis didn’t seem to be singing anything rehearsed to me. It was like she was free associating pure, raw emotion and blasting it out at the audience. Her fiery natural delivery was so pure and honest, belted out in that distinctive and powerful voice. Her interaction with the audience is fun to listen to as well: “How ya doin’? Are you staying stoned? Have you got enough water and a place to sleep?” There’s a mothering quality to it that reveals a tender side of Janis most of us never saw. The delays and logistical problems of Woodstock are legendary, and Janis was left to wait for about ten hours to start her set. There’s a weariness you can detect at times if you listen closely. Despite this, her energy is high and she delivers a powerful and lively performance, one of the first with her newly formed band. The highlight is the gut-wrenching “Work Me, Lord.” The slow blues and Janis’s passionate delivery are one of the highlights of her recorded work. She closes the show with a killer rendition of one of her signature tunes, “Ball And Chain.”
Columbia has created a nice set of music with their Woodstock Experience sets. I was pleased to find the included disc of Kozmic Blues, nicely remastered, and well covered by our own founder here if you’re curious. The full set by Janis is a real treat, finally released in a complete form and full of her unique energy and spirit.