Experience Hendrix Tour Review

Experience Hendrix Tribute Tour

Daughters of the American Revolution Concert Hall

Washington, DC

10-16-07    8pm

 

featuring:  Buddy Guy, Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cox, Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones), Robby Krieger, Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Hubert Sumlin, Chris Layton & Tommy Shannon (aka Double Trouble), Mato Nanji (Indigenous), Noah Hunt (Kenny Wayne Sheppard’s singer), & Eric Gales.

 

     Let me start by saying that it was actually a good thing that my tickets in DAR Hall that night were in the very last row of floor seating.  As it was, I found myself in the only place in the building where I could stand up and watch a parade of renowned guitar players shred mercilessly for three straight hours.  Now, I’m getting a bit long in the tooth myself, but this crowd was old.  My guess is that the twenty-somethings were outnumbered by the fifty-somethings by about two to one, although most of the crowd, like myself probably fell somewhere in between.  But the crowd’s inability to sustain verticality for more than a couple of seconds in between songs did not seem to damper the energy the performers.

     My first thought upon seeing the setup on stage was, “This is a soundman’s nightmare.”  There were no less than 14 guitar amps lined up on stage in front of two large Ampeg bass amps and three drum kits.  Interestingly, although Hendrix played through Marshall amps throughout his career, most of the guitar amps were Fender Twins.

     A booming voice over the PA announced the players as they shuffled on and off stage, changing the lineup, at least slightly between nearly every song.  Left handed guitar prodigy Eric Gales, backed by Double Trouble, laid down a thunderous Foxey Lady as the sound engineer worked to dial in the sound.  Gales then serenaded the crowd with a couple of minutes of Bach concerto music before leading Shannon and Layton into Waterfall, a delicate and somewhat more obscure Hendrix piece that seemed a bit out of place on the setlist amongst the dearth of arena rock anthems and stripped down dirty blues which dominated the rest of the night.  Gales’ mastery of  his instrument and love for Hendrix were both evident, although I think his set suffered a bit due to its placement early in the program and the need to work out kinks in the soundsystem.

    Next up was Native American shredder Mato Nanji, of the band Indigenous.  I thought that “I Don’t Live Today” would certainly be Mato’s song of choice given its references to the plight of Native Americans, but he surprised me by delicately leading into Little Wing, a song that is near and dear to Double Trouble, as Stevie Ray Vaughn’s instrumental version of the song won a Grammy just after SRV’s tragic death.  Nanji did the song complete justice, with a soaring solo that was extended, but not overdone.  He followed up with “Hear My Train A Comin,” a tune that was clearly not as familiar to Layton and Shannon.  In spite of Nanji’s admirable efforts, the tune lacked cohesion at the turnarounds and fell a bit flat.

    Gales and Nanji each took care of the vocals during their respective mini sets, but for the next set, vocalist Noah Hunt of Kenny Wayne Sheppard’s band was enlisted to handle the mic.  Hunt has all the qualities I admire in a vocalist.  His tone is clear, he knows the lyrics well, he can read cues from the musicians, and knows when to back off and let the band jam.  Doors guitarist Robby Krieger was brought out to lead Hunt and Double Trouble through stellar renditions of “Spanish Castle Magic” and “Manic Depression.”  The years certainly have not taken a heavy toll on Krieger, who illuminated the stage during “Manic Depression” with his peculiar bluesy slide style (listen to the Doors’ “Moonlight Drive” for a taste of what I’m talking about).

    As the PA announcer brought Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox out to thunderous applause, Mick Taylor was added almost as an after thought.  Trust me when I say that Taylor was in no way a second fiddle in this lineup.  He looked happy and healthy, dressed suavely in a black sport coat with a long red, white and blue scarf hanging behind his Les Paul…and his playing was no less robust than it was back in his heyday as the Rolling Stones’ lead guitarist.  Interesting to note, here, that the Hendrix family, whose “Experience Hendrix” production company put on the show, chose to invite Billy Cox to represent the Experience on bass rather than Noel Redding, who played on the vast majority of Hendrix releases.  The time that Cox spent playing with Jimi occurred mostly in his pre-fame days, as the two were army buddies in the early 60’s, and in the last year of Jimi’s life (ie New Year’s Eve ’69 with the Band of Gypsys through the end).  Mitchell, Cox and Mick Taylor launched into a version of “All Along the Watchtower” that was sabotaged by Mitchell’s unsure drumming.  I’m not sure how old Mitchell is by now, but unless he’s 85, he looks old for his age.  His drumming seemed about half speed and his mind seemed to be somewhere else.  This is a stark contrast to the drummer who blew the music world away in the sixties with his frenetic fusion of jazz and rock.  Mitchell was clearly Hendrix’s most important collaborator and careful listening to bootlegs of live Experience performances will show off the intimate improvisational connection shared by Mitchell and Jimi.  Mitchell did add an interesting bit of irony to the evening by noting that it was the Daughters of the American Revolution who got the Experience kicked off of a tour with the Monkees in their early days, but all in all, “Watchtower” was the low point of the evening, bringing the term, ‘trainwreck,’ to the lips of many listeners.

    As Krieger left the stage, Taylor stepped up to the mic while picking the intro to “Catfish Blues.”  Unfortunately, the mic was inaudible until about halfway through the song.  The slow, crawling blues pace seemed to suit Mitchell much better, and Taylor forged ahead bravely, despite the lack of volume on the vocals.  As I have mentioned, I really felt some sympathy for the poor soundman, adrift in a sea of guitar amps and effects pedals, but this microphone blunder was difficult to forgive.

    After “Catfish Blues,” Mitchell seemed to perk up a bit as Taylor played the first notes of “Stone Free,” which was a B side on Hendrix’s first single, and is considered by most to be quintessential Jimi.  Taylor played the song nearly flawlessly while also handling the vocals, but the tempo of Mitchell’s drumming seemed to fade as the song reached the 4 or 5 minute mark, leaving it to conclude on a somewhat anti climactic note. 

    Mitchell, Taylor and Cox sauntered off stage as the booming voice introduced Kenny Wayne Sheppard, along with vocalist Hunt and Double Trouble.  This quartet’s three song set comprised some of the most compelling music of the evening.  Layton’s pounding drums punctuated a spot on version of “I Don’t Live Today,” which was immediately followed by an extended “Voodoo Chile Blues,” not to be confused with “Voodoo Chile, Slight Return,” the song would ultimately close out the marathon set.  Although I respect his shredding ability, I must admit that I’ve never been a big fan of Kenny Wayne Sheppard.  He won me over on this night in a big way.  His tone was locked in with a wash of overdriven fuzz and wah that approximated the Hendrix tone more closely than any other guitarist of the evening with the exception of Buddy Guy.  Sheppard absolutely destroyed the slow blues of Voodoo Chile and segued nicely into “Let the Good Times Roll.”  Hunt’s vocals on this number shined brightly as Sheppard and the rhythm section stopped and started with tight precision.  The booming voice signaled a “brief” intermission as Buddy Guy’s gear was set up on stage.  ‘Brief’ was an understatement.  Guy and his full band (keys, drums, rhythm guitar and bass) were playing within two minutes. 

    Guy began his mini set with a nod to Double Trouble, by playing Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the first song of the evening that Hendrix never played.  After getting warmed up, Guy brought out legendary bluesman Hubert Sumlin, who made his reputation playing guitar for Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.  Sumlin was spry and in good spirits and was truly the only player of the evening old enough to refer to Buddy Guy as a “young man.”  Guy, however, outshined every guitarist of the evening, including Sumlin, with his biting tone.  Guy’s solos cut through everything else, even with a number of players on stage. 

    Just as his tone was closest to Hendrix, the content of Guy’s set was the farthest away from Jimi.  He basically played a shortened blues set which only contained one song that Hendrix was known to play:  Mannish Boy.  Sumlin and Guy traded licks to the delight of the crowd as Guy spelled out his manliness in this blues classic penned by Muddy Waters.  As Guy continued to play the blues in his most compelling style, I began to sense that the crowd was getting anxious to hear some more Hendrix classics.  Even as Mick Taylor and Mitch Mitchell joined the fray, audience members were heard to shout “Play some Hendrix!” in between songs.  Guy’s set was the longest of the evening, and for his last two songs, he enlisted the help of Robert Randolph, whose pedal steel guitar sat dormant on stage for the first two hours.  The interplay between Randolph, Guy, Taylor and Sumlin was positively breathtaking, although I couldn’t tell you the name of the songs they played (perhaps “Your Time” and “Drownin’ on Dry Land”).  Still, many audience members shouted their disdain for the song selection, prompting Guy to reply, “What…don’t y’all like the blues?”  I for one, do.

    Randolph and Guy remained on stage as Mitchell, Cox and Layton returned to quiet the audience’s catcalls with a plodding version of “Red House.”  Cox took a turn on vocals as Randolph and Guy traded soaring solos.  Cox seemed more into the music than did Mitchell, but when the song was over, a stagehand had to come over and guide Cox off the stage to make room for Shannon and Layton once again.  The pounding rhythm held down by Double Trouble created a beautiful canvas for Randolph’s rendering of the classic, “Purple Haze.”  Randolph’s vocals and solos did the song absolute justice, and the smile on his face showed unmistakable joy.

    Sheppard and Hunt returned to stage, joining Randolph and Double Trouble for an earthshaking and set concluding “Voodoo Chile, Slight Return.”  As Sheppard and Randolph traded tasty licks, the two were finally unable to hold back any longer and began to shred simultaneously, until Sheppard was just about on his knees in the classic, wide-stanced guitar player pose and Randolph was standing on his stool, jumping up and down as his slide coaxed screams of delight from his trusty pedal steel.  Towards the end of this furious jam, Randolph and Sheppard took the band into an extended tease of “Power of Soul,” the night’s only reference to Hendrix’s classic live release “A Band of Gypsys.” 

   A quick glance at my watch told me that the encore would likely be short and sweet.  I suppressed the urge to shout out a request for “1983:A Merman I Shall Turn to Be” and cracked a smile as Mitchell, Double Trouble, Sheppard, Krieger and Hunt returned to the stage and broke into “Hey Joe,” the song that really brought Hendrix into the public eye.  All parties involved turned in impressive performances and we were sent out on our merry way to ponder the weight of what we had just witnessed: a guitar summit like no other, and a piece of rock ‘n’ roll history. 

    In hindsight, it would have been impossible for this show to exceed expectations.  Whenever you bring that amount of talent to a single stage, it’s natural for expectations to rise through the roof.  The realities of the ages of some of the players and the general logistical difficulty of pulling off a show like this, brought the actual performance level back down to earth, but there were truly a number of moments of pure brilliance.  I have been a Hendrix fan for some 20 years and have acquired as many live recordings of him as possible, and I must say that the same was true of the Experience to some degree.  They had moments of blinding improvisational perfection, punctuated by moments of disorganization and hazy disconnection.  Thankfully, the great moments are abundant enough to fuel a love for Hendrix in thousands of music fans and musicians across the world.  If Jimi was up there somewhere, looking down on the night’s events, I think he would have been overjoyed by the passion that his music continues to inspire in some of the world’s greatest musicians.

 

 

Dave Bangert

10-20-07

Sat 10/20/2007 1:02 PM