Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock 1999

I've been tempted by this record many times. Historical Document, yeah yeah, blah blah, etc. But I knew the story of Hendrix's little-rehearsed band and even though this was finally the (almost) entire set, I just never went for it. So the other day I'm at the library, and I stumble onto the 2 CD set.

I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am that I did not spend a dime of my hard-earned money on this really bad Hendrix live recording. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of Hendrix I love. The three studio records released during his brief life are near perfect, each in a different way. But I've never been a big fan of posthumous records culled from recordings that were not worthy the first time around.

And nobody would have released this material if Hendrix were a seventy year old geezer rocker today. He wouldn't have allowed it, unless he'd become a washed-up old has-been pushing "The Golden Sixties" three-CD set on late night TV. Which somehow seems hard to fathom.

First, the recording sucks. You can only really hear Hendrix, Billy Cox on bass, and the inimitable Mitch Mitchell on drums. The two percussionists and rhythm guitar are all but inaudible. Given the reputation of this short-lived experimental line-up, that may not be the worst thing about the record, but we'll never know, because you can't hear them. It's a sound board recording, and as such, not the worst, but that's only really good enough to be released when the performance is transcendent. A few Grateful Dead performance records come to mind. Not so much this debacle.

What you can hear is plenty bad enough. Billy Cox hasn't become familiar enough with these songs to sound like the solid foundational player he would become on Band Of Gypsies. Mitch Mitchell shines brightest, but only because I love his wild way with the kit. Hendrix himself seems mortified, uncharacteristically apologizing throughout the set. And although there are moments of greatness, it sounds like Hendrix is just way to stoned to play at the top of his game. And did I mention that the band were ill-rehearsed? This sounds like three guys flailing at instruments, maybe not even aware of each other most of the time.

The highlights, you ask? A crazy Spanish Castle Magic is worth hearing. The version of Fire is good (of course there are many better),  and the first half of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is some killer Hendrix guitar, and it sounds like the band at least remembers how that one goes. The Star Spangled Banner is, well, it's of it's time, and you've heard it before.

The Sly and the Family Stone Woodstock Experience 2009 is the record to buy if you want to hear a great set at Woodstock. Hendrix was in a purple haze.

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