They assured me it was not a play. What I was about to experience was in fact a concert, and should be mistaken for nothing else.
But truth be told, Janis Joplin’s Birthday Bash was not just a concert — it was so much more than that.
Having experienced this one-night-stand with Janis (portrayed by Jan Kudelka), I might even go as far as to say that this performance piece not only embodied the singer herself, but those who kept her alive over the years. Janis Joplin’s Birthday Bash was arguably as much a concert as it was a representation of what the tragic soul queen meant to her devoted fans.
Walking into a part of The Tranzac Club I had never been in before, I immediately felt a presence brought back from the dead, as people chatted and socialized amongst themselves within the dimly lit performance space. The show began gradually, as the band began to play, and Kudelka made her way on stage. Her presence lit up the room as she fed off of the energy coagulating through the atmosphere.
If there was any doubt left in my mind up until this point that this was in fact not a piece of theatre, but simply a concert, that doubt was alleviated the moment Jan began wailing into the microphone. What I was witnessing from that moment on was inconceivably the ghost of Janis Joplin, ripping her way out of Kudelka’s vocal chords. The way in which she emulated the raspy texture of Janis’ pain riddled cries made me feel as though I was in my bedroom listening to her for the first time.
What I found particularly interesting about this performance, acting almost as a glue binding all of the songs together, were the short excerpts between songs, spoken by Kudelka herself. The excerpts consisted of short pieces of poetic dialogue, autobiographical or otherwise, that would inevitably feed into the next song.
In addition to Kudelka’s heartfelt reincarnation were the soulful vibrations of musicians Michelle Willis (keys), Tyler Wagler (bass), Martin Worthy (drums) and David Gray (guitar), recreating the grooves that once made Big Brother & The Holding Company a reality. Without this ensemble of musicians, Janis’ Birthday Bash would not have been the experience it was, recapturing the sound of a generation.
Though this performance was a one-night showcase to celebrate the vocalist’s birthday, I would recommend you keep an eye out for it next year. Janis Joplin’s Birthday Bash was a love letter that will continue to be written for as long as listeners remain alive and in need.