Review: Do We Need Yet Another Hendrix Live Performance? When It’s This Powerful, Why Not?

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Jimi Hendrix Experience
Los Angeles Forum: April 26, 1969
(Experience Hendrix/Legacy)
4 out of 5 stars

Try to imagine the puzzled faces on the crowd as Hendrix and his backing duo open their April 1969 show with an unreleased instrumental called “Tax Free.” The song, written by the Swedish duo of Hansson & Karlsson, had been in and out of the Experience’s set for years. But here, in an extended 15-minute version complete with Mitch Mitchell’s drum solo, it extends to its breaking point. That allows the band to fly off on an alternately mesmerizing and unfocused improvisational jag. This, once again, was the band’s first song of the night.

That piece kicks off yet another Hendrix live release, this one from a nine-tune gig after the release of Electric Ladyland (out Oct. 1968). Those selections include tracks from all three Experience albums available at the time, along with the aforementioned cover, an instrumental “Sunshine of Your Love, and early pre-Woodstock “Star Spangled Banner.” All are already available on one of the many existing Hendrix live discs although as usual, the performances are substantially different since Hendrix seldom played anything the same way twice.

The guitarist is particularly chatty, introducing songs for the hour-and-a-quarter show with his usual spaced-out flair. “Everyone wants to know what American soul is. Some think it’s Motown. American soul is… something like this here…” as he breaks into a scorching eleven-minute deep slow blues “Red House.” As if to placate the crowd, who came for the hits, he rolls out “Purple Haze” and “Foxey Lady,” both released only two years prior but already oldies. To his credit, even though Hendrix’s vision had moved past those rockers, he doesn’t phone them in, extending “…Haze” to nearly seven searing minutes.

He also crashes into “Spanish Castle Magic,” pushing it to nearly a quarter hour, moving into a funk jam, bringing the volume down. Drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding get to rest as Hendrix explores an unaccompanied solo for four minutes before they return to join in an explosive finale. It sizzles.    

The same holds for “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” running just over nine minutes (hey, another drum solo) as Hendrix squeals, squalls, and plums serious sonics on a feisty, spirited version that’s equal to almost any already out there.

Liner notes from ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, who was there, provide a firsthand report of the show. A second lengthy essay rambles on concerning how Hendrix and the times coalesced, along with the building of the LA Forum where the concert was held. It’s intermittently interesting (floor seats were $6.50), but far from essential reading.

The Experience only had two months of live shows left (Redding quit in June 1969), making this one of the last recordings with the original threesome. Despite reported tensions within the group, they tear it up.      

Images Courtesy Bob Merlis / M.f.h.

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