From BBC Music
Hendrix’s legacy has not been well represented by his live releases. Hitherto, the most widely available sets, Woodstock and Band of Gypsies, were both recorded with flawed one-off line-ups cobbled together for individual events.
Jimi’s August 1970 Isle of Wight show was an eagerly anticipated return to the UK with a well-honed trio offering long-awaited new material to an audience of 600,000 people. Sadly, given such auspicious circumstances, he arrived jet-lagged, studio-lagged, deeply troubled and about as grouchy as any usually-charming-genius can become.
The fact that Hendrix would die within weeks of this festival could be claimed to add to its significance, but adds only poignancy to a performance which is very uneven, lacking the passion and spontaneity which were his trademark. Previously released recordings of this show, in 1971 and 1991, failed through dismal editing and re-sequencing to showcase the best of the material. This new attempt, under the auspices of the Hendrix estate, could hardly fail to improve on its predecessors but equally cannot be expected to turn lead into gold.
On offer are two formats: a limited edition double CD comprising all 120 meandering minutes, and a single CD which omits most of the second half of the set. The highlight of both is the oft-compiled finale ”In From The Storm” – the only new song which captures the Experience’s original intensity. Other ‘new’ compositions struggle without the glorious polyrhythmic overdubs the studio offered to ”Dolly Dagger”, ”Freedom” and ”Ezy Ryder”. Unfortunately Hendrix by now felt jaded towards his earlier material – after an unfocussed ”Foxy Lady” he complains to the audience about the demand for him to play such oldies.
There are still joys here for afficionados (who will buy the double), and the single CD is the most flattering release of the show yet achieved – but if you crave a live ‘greatest hits’ then wait in hope of a release for the stunning but mysteriously unavailable Berkeley shows from May 1970, or try the Feb 24 1969 Albert Hall show on the 3 CD The Last Experience set recently released by Charly/Snapper.
“A bit more volume on this one, Charlie, it’s going to need it,” says a roadie testing microphones — and then Jimi Hendrix comes onstage and proves him absolutely right. This live album captures a thrilling Hendrix gig in the U.K. at the Isle of Wight Festival, on August 30th, 1970 — between sets from Jethro Tull and Joan Baez. Unlike many Hendrix repackagings, this record is not just for wonks who want to pore over every note of the “Red House” solo — it’s an amazing document that will grab your ears and twist them.
The show starts with an incendiary version of “God Save the Queen” — no, not the Sex Pistols song, which came seven years later, but the British national anthem, a sequel to Hendrix’s take on “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (One can only hope that continued archival work will uncover Hendrix doing “La Marseillaise” and “O Canada.”) Since this concert marked Hendrix’s return to the United Kingdom, where he made his name, he plays like he has something to prove. Even a short cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is imbued with real passion.
The Isle of Wight show was among Hendrix’s last concerts; three weeks later, he was dead. If you want to find clues as to where he was headed musically, you won’t find many here. He performs “Dolly Dagger,” slated for inclusion on his never-completed album First Rays of the New Rising Sun, and although it’s a solid up-tempo song, it doesn’t break any new ground for him.
This concert has been released before, but only on woefully truncated discs. The show’s centerpiece, previously unavailable, is “Machine Gun”: twenty-two astonishing minutes of Hendrix fireworks, encompassing both a savage guitar assault and improvisation that stretches out like Silly Putty. It’s a worthy final testament.
Principally a concert film of Jimi Hendrix’s set at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, his last British date, Blue Wild Angel begins, not with the show itself, but with material gathered from several sources. We see Hendrix with Dick Cavett, at Berkeley, and at Woodstock, each image and bit of narration presumably a primer for viewing, and understanding, what happened at the Isle of Wight. Hendrix, apparently, didn’t want to go, instead preferring to remain in New York and work on his studio creations.
I am not sure if one is supposed to be more impressed with Hendrix’s Isle of Wight performance with this information than without it, but if we discount the fantastically amusing aging hippie with her bit about “fun, youth, beautiful, all are welcome” at the festival’s outset, the first genuine imparting of anything that might relate to Hendrix, that doesn’t seem somewhat contrived, occurs as we watch him make his way from his dressing room to the stage. In a long traveling shot, director Murray Lerner moves his camera when Hendrix moves, stops it when he stops, becoming blocked behind a pole, a stack of cases, continuing on to the other side. Hendrix walks as if dazed while the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” plays over the backstage speakers. A young, attractive French reporter sidles up to him, asks a truly vapid question, and receives an answer voiced like she isn’t even there. Then Hendrix, sounding more like himself, responds to the woman again, properly, closely, in a soft voice, as if she were a confidante.
A crude swish-pan and we are transported directly behind the stage where a disheveled Hendrix asks a stagehand how “God Saves the Queen” goes. The hand hums the opening, and apparently this is enough. From a filmic perspective, Blue Wild Angel is typical of its genre. Match cuts between several camera angles, a prevailing stasis within most shots, and a few “quirks” some might find slightly annoying—four thin, blue lines run the length of the frame of the chief camera angle on Hendrix’s right for the first third of the film, and scratches in the film’s surface are later visible on the screen. But Blue Wild Angel is exemplary in conveying Hendrix’s command, which is evident throughout. On a festival bill with two acts, in Miles Davis and the Who, surpassing his own artistry, Hendrix remains both consummate as a professional and unpredictable as an artist, inviting our attention. As Mitch Mitchell shambles through one of his three drum solos, Hendrix mans the stage, whispering to bassist Billy Cox, walking up to the speaker cabinets to advise a soundman, then counting the band back into ensemble mode.
As the set progresses, the cutting accelerates, showmanship and montage as a race to the finish line. Hendrix would be dead within three weeks and this is a feverish performance. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” transitions into the closing “In From the Storm,” and a blue arc light, persistently bright on the stage’s far side, is like talisman and harbinger both, dreadfully fitting.
Jimi Hendrix. Where would we be in music without him? Probably the equivalent to the human race a few thousand years ago: sitting in a cave, picking lice off of each other and staring at fire like it was a giant monster prepared to devour us all. The year was 1970, and needlessly to say, Jimi was most likely the best guitarist in the world, or at least the most innovative. This concert marks the band’s return to England after about 2 years, and was it one hell of a return. Packed with new songs, new tricks and a new bass player, how could it not be?
The album starts out with an announcement of the band, and the cheers of the audience, which are surprisingly awake considering their later start time of around 3 a.m. The band tunes up, and Jimi tells the crowd to stand up, for their country (or *** them), as he goes into an interesting version of God Save the Queen packed with all that jazz that he was famous for. Then they go into a little bit of a jam version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, which is phenomenal. Jimi plays both guitar parts amazingly while singing at the same time. Spanish Castle Magic opens up what could be called the “real” set. I personally prefer this version much to the studio one. The lyrics sound even more spacey, and the performance is much more emotive. They then go into All Along the Watchtower, the Bob Dylan classic. Again, I like this version much better than the studio one. The absence of the rhythm guitar and Jimi playing the bass is not even noticed.
Next is possibly one of the greatest songs ever written ever. Machine Gun almost completely owns the rest of the CD; in fact it could most likely be its own CD by today’s standards, running at about 22:13. The guitar and drums work so well together in this I can’t explain it, and all the while Billy keeps that awesome bass line going, with some cool fills too. The song drifts into nothing at about halfway for a drum solo, which is awesome. Then the whole band slowly comes in with Jimi playing with this awesome effect that sounds like a Wah with a Talk-Box almost. The song ends right where you began, and you fall of your cloud for the next song, Lover Man.
The previous song and the next, Freedom, are a lot alike to me, and really can be interchanged at will. If there is a real low point on this two disc album, it’s here, and on the songs after Red House. Although this is true for me, they are still good; I’ve just grown tired of them. Also, Dolly Dagger after Red House is a little better than the rest. The previously mentioned Red House is still a high point on the album, though. It’s another extended song (From 3:50 on the original to 11:37 here) and it’s really good. You really can get the blues listening to this. Hearing Jimi play, it sounds like he�s pouring his heart out.
On the next disk, it starts out with the screech of Foxey Lady. Jimi seems to feel the need to increase the time, and pitch at which he holds this note. Almost as if he wants to put the audience in pain before they finally get a more recognizable song. Jimi abruptly stops playing during the middle, and so Billy and Mitch are left to doodle around with the beat for a while before he comes back and ends the song. The next song Message To Love is almost in the veins of the second half of disk one, but a little better than the rest of them.
Now for another favourite… Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) starts off with Jimi soloing by himself for a little, until the band comes in later to back him up a little. The band fades away, and Jimi’s all alone again until he starts up the main riff, which is like a slower version of All Along The Watchtower. He then goes into an amazingly soulful solo before singing what could be my favourite Hendrix lyrics.
Hey baby, I said, where do you come from?
She points into the sky and says, with a smile on her face,
I’m coming from the land of the New Rising Sun.
It’s just hippy bliss that you must hear for yourself.
As the previous song ends, so the next begins. Ezy Ryder is a fairly well done song, while not one of my favourites. The riffs he does are pretty awesome though, and his voice is amazing. The next two songs are possibly some of his most well known. Hey Joe and Purple Haze are both done well, but you can almost tell he�s already tired of playing both of them, especially the first, so many times. I do prefer this version of Hey Joe better than the studio, but the studio version of Purple Haze is most likely better than this in my opinion.
Now for the trademark that is Voodoo Child (Slight Return). This is another amazing performance, although out of tune in some places. You can tell Jimi loved playing this song. Every performance of this to me sounds different, and this one of my favourites, possibly due to the fact that he makes this completely amazingly touching chord pattern at the end that I like. (Can you tell I like it?).
The concert ends with In From The Storm which starts with another cool drum solo by Mitch. The song is a pretty good closer, although I believe that they should have ended it with the masterpiece of Voodoo Child.
This was my first ever Hendrix album, and I never regret it. It gave me a wider scope than any of his studio albums could of what he was capable of. If you like Hendrix, I would recommend this to you. If you want to get into Hendrix, than you might prefer something like Are You Experienced or Smash Hits, but I like this loads better.
-All of the musicians are amazing. Mitch really shows off what he can do, and Billy proves himself to England quite well.
-Hoorah for Wah!
-Some parts may get tiresome.
-You can’t always listen to Jimi Hendrix, you really need to be in the mood.