Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jimi Hendrix Live!

Need something to do after you engulf that huge Thanksgiving turkey? Check out guest writer Josh Walker's review of Jimi Hendrix, Live At Woodstock and then, while all that tryptophan invades your system, check out the movie!

The 60’s were a very interesting and important point in the history of the United States of America. There was the Vietnam War, The Civil Rights Movement, President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were both assassinated, and the whole culture was experiencing a breakdown and restructuring morally, ideologically, and politically. The music and art that came out of this time was certainly a manifestation of these events. This film combines one of the most controversial, celebrated, and flawed concerts of the time, with a performance by one the most important artists of the time, when he was at the peak of his success and creativity.

The film opens with present day interviews with some of the people that were actually at Woodstock and directly involved. I was afraid this was going to be mere reflecting on the ideologies and beliefs of the time, but it turned out to be very insightful in the development of the movie and in giving some behind-the-scenes background on the band that Jimi Hendrix used for this performance. Concert producer Michael Lang, said that the original closer he wanted to use was Roy Rogers singing, ‘Happy Trails’ because that generation had grown up listening to Roy Rogers sing that tune. Having Jimi Hendrix instead was a huge change in direction, but with the slot being midnight on the last day of the event, it seemed a better choice. Hendrix’s publicist Michael Goldstein then goes on to relate how, due to a combination of rain, poor and non-existent roads, poor planning and management, and generally poor organization, Hendrix’s performance did not happen until 9AM the following Monday morning. Bassist Billy Cox and drummer Mitch Mitchell contribute some humorous anecdotes as to how the band finally got to the stage by a combination of station wagon and helicopter.

The band used for the Woodstock performance also had more members than what the public was used to seeing as the famous ‘Experience’, which was only a trio. Hendrix was growing tired of the simple trio format and wanted to experiment with a larger group. Second guitarist and childhood friend of Hendrix, Larry Lee, had just returned from serving in Vietnam and relates how his first gig with Hendrix, in a front of a big audience, was for Woodstock’s 300,000 plus spectators.

The film segues from documentary-style, to live concert, without any real transition. It goes from the interview footage of the band members describing the trip to the stage, to pre-concert footage of the stage, and then Hendrix is announced. He walks out to the front of the bandstand on August 27, 1969, and launches into the psychedelic anthem “Message to Love”. Some of the audience is actually up on the stage and their expressions range from dazed and bewildered to frenzied and possessed. The actual core of the band - Hendrix, Mitchell, and Cox - sound seasoned and strong, and the energy Jimi channels right from the first note at 9 AM is remarkable. The rest of the band - Lee, percussionist Juma Sultan, and Andrew Derring - seem almost extraneous. Percussionist, Derring, is so dazed and out of control he sometimes seems to be falling on his drums and actually has to pause to re-position them during Hendrix’s solo on ‘Spanish Castle Magic’. Hendrix affords guitarist Lee a couple of solos during the set, but the sound technicians did not seem to notice this and Jimi’s comping quite nearly overpowers Lee’s bluesy guitar soloing. The entire ensemble is a little out of tune at different times, but given the setting and the various illegal substances that many people were engaging in, not to mention that concert was behind schedule by about nine hours, it’s no surprise there were some less than perfect components to this performance. Jimi’s guitar cable begins to short out during ‘Foxey Lady’ and it takes the sound crew an entire song to figure it out.

The highlight of the set is the highly energized,” Voodoo Child,” where Hendrix displays all his tricks and moves but also achieves some great solo moments and continues to deliver an incredibly passionate performance. This tune ends with a guitar and drum cadenza that morphs into what was, for the time, a highly controversial version of the Star Spangled Banner. Hendrix utilizes the full sonic range of the guitar here, complete with all the distortion, wah wah effects, and whammy bar dive-bombs that were such a big part of his sound. The melody is clearly stated, but Hendrix then mixes in screaming, feedback laden, electric guitar proclamations that sound at times like bombs or rockets, explosions, and tortured screams. This was received by some as a complete travesty and some as a great artistic rendering and interpretation of the song based on the time period of the performance.

This movie turned out to be something of a cross between a documentary and a concert. As a huge Jimi Hendrix fan, I found it very entertaining. I found the extra information about Woodstock to be insightful as well, as it was told not from the perspective of ruminating about the hippie ideologies of the time, as I was afraid it might. It was instead a historical, and informative narration on this huge and important concert from one of the most artistically and creatively potent periods in the history of the United States.

-Josh Walker

No comments:

Post a Comment