Words & Images by: L Paul Mann
Experience Hendrix :: 03.04.10 :: Arlington Theatre :: Santa Barbara, CA
A sold out crowd packed the elegant Arlington Theatre for the opening salvo in a guitar heavy super tour of legendary American axe-men. The Experience Hendrix Tour was born out of the first Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Festival in 1995. This first tribute concert was the headline act at Seattle's (Hendrix's hometown) annual Bumbershoot Arts and Music Festival. That show spawned more than a decade of similar tributes, culminating in what is now the second year of a nationwide tour.
The testosterone-laced atmosphere was evident not only in the all-male musical lineup onstage but also in the lobby, where the usual long line to the girl's restroom was replaced by one to the men's room. The mostly male baby boomer crowd had come to see generations of guitar wizards perform some of Hendrix's most beloved songs. Along with the ten guitar gods, a rotating stage of supporting musicians, including Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton and Hendrix's only surviving compatriot, bassist Billy Cox, brought the music to life in evolutionary ways.
The undisputed king of the electric guitar produced a treasure chest of music in four short years. His first album, 1967's seminal Are You Experienced?, introduced the world to his distorted, blues inspired, psychedelic guitar playing. His revolutionary sound and style continue to influence almost every guitarist alive today. On his second album, 1967's Axis: Bold As Love, Hendrix mostly turned down the distortion to reveal more inventive guitar playing and songwriting. His final album with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1968's double-album Electric Ladyland, pushed electric guitar to the outer limits of sound.
After The Jimi Hendrix Experience broke up, Hendrix joined up with bassist
Billy Cox, with whom he had played in the army in the early 1960s. Cox was on board for Hendrix's legendary Woodstock performance and the stellar live Band of Gypsys, the last album that Hendrix officially authorized before his untimely death in 1970. Cox is the last surviving member of Hendrix's core band and provided pivotal bass for many of the songs at this concert, which reverently paid tribute to Hendrix.
Several generations of the nation's best electric guitar masters took the music in a multitude of directions. The first part of the show covered much Hendrix-inspired territory, including a smoking opening set with Cox and Chris Layton joined on guitar by Ernie Isley from The Isley Brothers, who employed Hendrix as a touring guitarist before he made it big. Isley told a story about being an 11-year-old boy when Hendrix came to live at his house for two years.
Living Colour brought a whole new generational take on the music with a less bluesy, more modern, heavy metal style. Doyle Bramhall II brought the pace down with his trademark acoustic and pedal steel guitar picking, before launching into a few more electric numbers with Los Lobos' David Hidalgo.
Eric Johnson's set included an awesome version of "Are You Experienced?" that nicely simulated the backwards guitar effects from Hendrix's studio version. Next up was a high-energy set by Jonny Lang joined by Aerosmith's Brad Whitford, which began with a heated version of "Fire," followed by a soulful take on "The Wind Cries Mary," and ending with "Spanish Castle Magic" with extended guitar soloing.
Then came Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who displayed the best Hendrix-like guitar jams of the evening. Joined by singer Noah Hunt (Kenny Wayne Shepard Band), Shepherd ripped through "I Don't Live Today" and "Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)" before the masterful slow blues of "Voodoo Chile," which morphed into the concert highlight jam of "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)." Shepherd seemed to channel Hendrix at this point, including playing guitar behind his head a la Hendrix himself.
In the next set, David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas from Los Lobos played tastefully, including a nice take on the beautiful "Little Wing," but they had the unenviable task of following Shepherd, who had whetted the audience's appetite for guitar heroics. One very awesome historic moment occurred during their set when they were joined by 78-year-old Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin, who offered up "Killing Floor," a song that Hendrix memorably covered at the Monterey Pop Festival.
This was followed by the pairing of Living Colour and Joe Satriani for a set that included "Third Stone From the Sun," "Foxy Lady" and "All Along the Watchtower." All featured impressive shredding by Satriani, in his progressive, electronic style, that may have been the direction Hendrix himself was heading just before his untimely death.
The show ended nearly four hours after it began with Hendrix's first single "Hey Joe," a jam session involving Hidalgo, Rosas, Whitford, Satriani and Billy Cox.
The new Experience Hendrix tour coincides with the release of Valleys of Neptune, a collection of previously unreleased Jimi Hendrix music (JamBase review).
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