SAN FRANCISCO: “Are you ready for this?” grinned Janis Joplin at an audience that was packed tight as matches into the Fillmore West. Obviously they were. Cries of “Get down” (everybody stood as soon as Janis hit the stage) were replaced by cries of “Get it on!” and the band preceded to do just that. Now, ordinarily there would be nothing unusual about that, except that the band was none other than the original Big Brother and the Holding Company. You’d never know it to hear them though; scarcely a moment was lost in tuning up, and once tuned, they stayed in tune. If you had your eyes closed, you would have sworn it was somebody else.

In fact, one might well wonder whether Janis was there to perform or to draw the crowd’s attention to the new, much-improved Holding Company, as she left the stage after a couple of numbers and left the band to back up Nick Gravenities. Running through Gravenities tunes, new and old, the Company revealed a tightness and general level of musicianship which was hitherto lacking.

But it was Janis the audience wanted, and she returned to play the dozens with Nick the Greek in a number that recalled (if only in content) Otis and Carla’s “Tramp.” “Easy Rider” from the Mainstream album followed, and as they launched into “Cuckoo” Janis chuckled and said, “We’re really dredging up the past for ya, folks.” Lost in nostalgia, she looked up at the ceiling and suddenly became indignant. “Hey! They stole this ceiling from the Avalon. Some fuckin’ nerve, when Chet’s starving.”

But there were no cries of “Right on!”

The audience was far too busy squealing for “Piece of My Heart” and “Ball & Chain,” and they got them. They applauded politely, Janis let a blind person touch her here and there, and the show was over, leaving almost everybody feeling good, and leaving many people eagerly anticipating the Holding Company’s next appearance, with or without Janis.