Jimi Hendrix - guitar, vocals; Noel Redding - bass; Mitch Mitchell - drums
This run of Jimi Hendrix concerts at Winterland, with Dino Valenti and then Buddy Miles Express opening, produced some of the most interesting Hendrix sets ever recorded. In mid 1968, just as he was releasing his monumental Electric Ladyland LP, Hendrix began actively and fervently pursuing opportunities to jam with other musicians. He became more conscious of his improvisational abilities than at any other time in his too brief career. These shows capture Hendrix at his most exploratory, expanding the boundaries of his own playing and open to adding other musicians to the mix, in this case with no rehearsals. This new approach would eventually spell the demise of the Jimi Hendrix Experience as a band, but for a brief time, would open up inspiring new possibilities for their the music. These Winterland sets give a compelling illustration of this new increasingly improvisational approach that Hendrix was beginning to bring to his music at the time; at the very least, they offer a fascinating glimpse into Hendrix's thought process and the new expressive directions he was beginning to explore in 1968.
The equipment and attitude problems that plagued the second half of the early show have obviously been resolved by the late show, and the band gives their final performance of this run everything they've got. This set is absolutely phenomenal from beginning to end.
As if to get the more mundane material over with right off the bat, the band breaks out a "Foxy Lady" to open the set. The band hits the ground running, and Hendrix's renewed enthusiasm is obvious. They follow with a blistering version of "Manic Depression," a song not often played, but here filled with passion and fury. Another homage to Cream (who had just announced their imminent retirement) follows with a wild jam on "Sunshine Of Your Love."
The most beautiful performance of the entire run is almost certainly the "Little Wing" that comes next. Having appeared originally on their previous album, Axis: Bold as Love, this version is totally focused and full of passion, revealing the rarely heard tender side of Hendrix in a live context.
Next up, Mitchell propels the band into "Spanish Castle Magic," another song from their second album. While not quite as exploratory as the version played the previous night, this is still an amazing performance with plenty of guitar fueled pyrotechnics. One can never get enough of Hendrix's competent straight blues playing and, once again, "Red House" is mesmerizing for both Hendrix's control of dynamics and the way he squeezes so much emotion into every single note.
Following "Red House," the familiar percussive strum and wah-wah intro of "Voodoo Child" ripples through the air, and the band tears into the tune like it's the last they'll ever play. It's a staggering performance and, since this was still a new song at the time, most of the audience must have been left spellbound.
As with the earlier shows of the run, they end this remarkable set with "This Is America," now beginning to sound a lot like the characteristically searing "Star Spangled Banner" of Woodstock fame. Again, the song transitions into "Purple Haze," for which they pull out all the stops. The Experience is on overdrive here, and their kinetic playing races on, until they finally screech to a heaving halt, ending one of the most adventurous run of shows of Hendrix's entire career.
-Written by Alan Bershaw
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