Classic Rock Review

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Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock (1999)


Originally released as Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock in 1994, this expanded 2-cd edition figures to be the last word on Hendrix’s famous Woodstock performance since it contains all but two songs performed that day, both of which were sung by rhythm guitarist Larry Lee. Still, though it may very well be the single greatest Hendrix live album with regards to his guitar playing, Live At Woodstock is not without its problems.

For one thing, Jimi was a highly visual artist (starting with the fact that he was left-handed but played a right-handed guitar upside down), so obviously you don’t get quite the whole effect when merely hearing him play live (but surely you’ve seen the Woodstock movie, right?). Secondly, for all his plaudits as a live musician, he was actually a pretty erratic live performer, especially in his somewhat confused last year, and this concert has its highs and lows.

The biggest problem is his backing band, consisting of Mitchell (great as always), Cox (a supporting player at best), the aforementioned Lee, and two conga players. Dubbed Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, these guys were a far cry from the original Experience. In fact, the percussionists sucked and the band hadn’t practiced enough and lacked cohesion, which engineer Eddie Kramer realized and rectified by wiping out their parts from this album, thereby presenting the new version of the Jimi Hendrix Experience as a hard-hitting power trio.

Simply put, what was heard on stage August 18, 1969 is not what is heard on this cd, and the inauthentic nature of this release is likely to offend purists, especially given the historical importance of this performance. After all, is what Kramer did here so different than what Alan Douglas was so severely criticized for doing over the years? If Kramer was willing to remove things, surely it’s possible that he added things as well, no? The whole thing makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, but with that rant out of the way let me say that what’s here sounds fantastic for the most part. Sure, some of these jams are a bit long and monotonous, his stage patter is often incomprehensible and quite goofy, and I wish that there was more material from Axis and Electric Ladyland (only one song apiece), but despite battling fatigue and less than ideal conditions (a 9 a.m. Monday morning start time), Jimi puts his heart and soul into this justifiably legendary performance. Disc one features probably my favorite rendition of “Message Of Love” (we have Mitchell instead of Miles and Jimi is on fire), plus fierce jams mark “Spanish Castle Magic” and “Lover Man.”

Again, as with Live At Winterland the band can get bogged down a bit when they try the bluesier stuff, and the improvised jam “Jam Back At The House” takes awhile to get going, but once it does boy does it ever, as does “Hear My Train A’ Comin” come to think of it. But disc one is merely a warm-up for disc two, which starts with my favorite version of “Izabella” but really gets going with a nearly 14-minute version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”

Simply put, this version is jaw-dropping, mind-melting, relentlessly awe-inspiring; feel free to add your own adjectives, because guitar-based jamming simply doesn’t get any better. Next up is Jimi’s monumental shredding of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which may be his signature guitar solo (he pulls out all the stops) and which evokes that war torn era like few songs. It sounds better than ever placed within its proper context here, too, and sandwiched around a couple of short, punchy, and flat-out ass kicking early Experience classics (“Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe”) are two other “songs” that showcase Jimi’s improvisational genius, and which can’t be heard on any other release. The aptly titled “Woodstock Improvisation” is basically Jimi just strutting his stuff as arguably the greatest guitar player the rock world has ever known, while the subdued “Villanova Junction” delivers the calm after the hurricane hits.

This sequence of songs on side two is Jimi Hendrix the live musician at his absolute best, and Mitch Mitchell too on the songs where Jimi also lets him let loose. They were playing like men possessed, like they wanted to steal the entire damn festival, and though the reality of the band performance on that morning was in actuality far less than what’s presented here, that shouldn’t stop your enjoyment when listening to this album. What may curb your enjoyment somewhat is the sheer exhausting nature of these long, jam-heavy songs, which likely won’t be everybody’s cup of tea even though it is mine. Note: There are plenty of other releases that have appeared over the years, many of which have been pulled by Jimi’s estate.

The two most necessary purchases that don’t appear on this page I suppose are Live At Monterey (better seen and heard on DVD) and the 4-cd box set The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which is a real treasure trove for Hendrix fanatics. That said, most of the alternate versions on the box set don’t sound all that different, some of the live tracks were previously available (the contents of the long out of print Hendrix In The West basically appears in its entirety), and some of the recordings sound like demos that should’ve remained unreleased. In short, the songs are usually good to great but on the whole it should’ve been better.

March 15, 2013 - Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock |

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