Sunday, November 25, 2012

Put The Boot In-"Up From The Skies"-The Jimi Hendrix Experience 2-28-68

     This edition of "Put The Boot In" will take a look back at The Jimi Hendrix Experience's performance at The Scene Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on February 28, 1968. The recording I am listening to is a purported first generation audience tape of both the early and late shows played that day. This performance finds Hendrix touring in support of  the newly released "Axis: Bold as Love" LP, with the Experience supporting him in peak form. This recording is boomy and distorted at points, but all instruments are audible, and the recording is a beautiful portrait of the raw dynamism of Hendrix's guitar. The biggest knock on the tape is that the vocals are often concealed by the screaming instruments. At least Hendrix's guitar comes through impressively. I absolutely love audience recordings where the vibe of the venue and the sound of historical air can be felt through the captured sound waves and magnetic tape. This recording does just that, even with the sometimes peaking and hot levels, the recording elicits a moment perfectly as I allow myself to travel back in time. Hendrix played an early and late show on this day, but in my opinion they play out like one complete show. The only repeat song between the two performances is 'Foxy Lady". If you can deal with some questionable sound quality to enjoy a provocative and legendary performance this tape contains the transportational properties to take you there.
     Hendrix's popularity at this point was already reaching astronomical levels and his guitar playing prowess well known and universally accepted. This was the groups most extensive tour of the States and the band was practiced and playing demagogic shows every night. The first of two performances this evening find The Experience opening with the Hansson and Karlsson penned number "Tax Free". A song often used by Jimi to open shows and warm up his fingers, the tune takes its rightful position on this recording. Immediately Hendrix has the crowd cowering in the corners of the venue as he annihilates them with over driven consciousness expanding runs up and down the neck of his Stratocaster. "Tax Free"spikes in a multicolored wash of feedback that leaves the collected throng breathless. I love the feel of this recording, as the natural reverb and captured crowd comments all add to my enjoyment of the recording. Next comes an absolutely screeching version of "Fire" which starts with a collective scream from the crowd. I can make out snippets of conversation near the recording equipment of the clandestine taper asking, "Is everything on?". I can understand his concern, because if I was witnessing this performance I would want to make sure it was captured for posterity myself!
     Following a hot to the touch "Fire" Jimi settles back into his nightly rendition of "Red House". I really enjoy this version of "Red House" because it benefits most from the sound of the room and the recording. The trio's instruments are clear, and the vocals the most audible of the show. Hendrix's "fuzz face" over driven guitar soars over the rhythm section as Jimi peels off riff after virtuosic riff. As I tune into this version of "Red House" it occurs to me that I am hearing Jimi's actual amp sound on this tape. I feel like the taper is close enough that he is getting a true amplifier sound as opposed to a straight PA recording. This is another reason to hunt this recording down, the organic, vintage electric guitar representation. I can smell the heat off of the tubes, and the plectrum scrape across the strings. Noel Redding introduces the next song, "Foxy Lady" and the band crashes into its recognizable intro with a stuttering intensity. The music jumps from my speakers as I sit in awe of the power on display. A master of mood's Jimi takes the intensity down a bit with a definitive version of "The Wind Cries Mary". Slick and quick The Experience slide through the chord changes dynamically, as Jimi's guitar comes blasting through during the solo in startling fashion. The next tune is somewhat of a rarity when the band follows "The Wind Cries Mary" with the Bob Dylan "B" side, "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window". Drenched in a thick Hendrix wah, this cover stays fairly true to the Dylan original. Unfortunately the vocals are hardly discernible during this part of the recording, but the groove of the performance makes up for any shortcomings. Mitch is especially strong during this jam, and the crowd responds in kind. Jimi follows the end of the tune with a blink and you'll miss it snatch of "Satisfaction", before a break for tuning. A tripped out tremolo introduction leads to an overdrivin and feedback filled prologue to "Purple Haze". Again, the shortcomings of this audience tape are the same things that make it so charming. Jimi's guitar bounces and reverberates around the room, its organic echo translating its historic code to the tape.
     Thanks to enterprising tapers like the folks who made this recording I can ruminate and fantasize about the performance and live vicariously through this field recording. Thus ends the days first performance closing with "Purple Haze", and with a evening performance to follow. The recording starts the second show mid tuning, and captures the tapers bantering before the show starts proper.  Jimi thanks the crowd for staying for the second show, introduces the band, and introduces himself as "playing radio". What follows is a scarce and freewheeling instrumental of "Bold as Love", which starts mellow but soon accelerates smoothly into an extended guitar extravaganza.  Jimi then takes off on a tour of the "Bold as Love" theme with some syrupy extended runs. A beautiful moment expressing Jimi's melodic prowess, and a rare little gem. Jimi's Stratocaster sings the lyricless melody in ways words could never do justice. Jimi often opened his performances with warm up instrumentals, using the stage as a "live workshop" for new material. This pair of shows is no different showing the Experience is full experimental mode. Jimi and Noel then drop out of the jam for Mitch to take a brief but pounding drum interlude prefacing the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" that follows."Sgt Pepper" marches in ways "The Beatles" could never imagine with a psychedelic strut. A unique and well played opener that sets the stage for the fury to follow. "Spanish Castle Magic" starts innocently enough but opens up into a blinding maelstrom of a jam that ends much too soon. The end of the song finishes with comments from someone close to the recording gear exclaiming, "Did you see that drummer?' Indeed, the entire band is peaking out at this early point in the show, with Mitch playing especially well. The next three songs are quaking with psychedelic energy and kaleidoscopic instrumentation. "Spanish Castle Magic" contains a brief but kinetic central solo. This version a precursor to epic versions to appear later in the year.
      "Stone Free" follows with its syncopated funky introduction and low key vocal delivery. The band has the audience in the palm of their hand by this point of the show. Again, the sound is distorted and the vocals buried, but the energy is infectious, and the performance provocative. Jimi and Mitch work in conjunction through the solo each dancing around the others riffs. Even on this distorted recording Mitch's free flowing drumming glides behind Hendrix's sharp phased soloing. Unfortunately it's Noel's rumbling elephant bass that gets lost in translation.
      Next on the set list comes one of my favorite Experience live tracks with a poor version impossible to find, "I Don't Live Today". This version is no different, while not as stretched out and improvised as later versions in 1969 and 1970 this version contains stratospheric jams where the music achieves lift off. At around three minutes and thirty seconds the alchemy starts to take place with Noel laying down thick reverberating bass rumbles. Jimi surfs across the earthly landscape with not only flashy awe inspiring riffs, but with careful probing and stretched out electric statements. The rhythm section palpitates with substantial girth, agitated into a monstrous groove. Hendrix discharges a multitude of melodic statements with his slightly overdrivin tone, meticulously driving the jam in an assemblage of directions. A soundboard recording of this jam I'm sure would reveal a number of hidden secrets and a wealth of band interplay, but for now I will be content with the natural sound of this forty plus year old field recording. "I Don't Live Today" peaks and finishes and leads into a resplendent version of "Burning Of the Midnight Lamp". This song holds the same position as the early show's version of "The Wind Cries Mary", a fitting cool down moment after the previous songs aural assult. This is a sturdy version of a delicate song. I am of the opinion that Hendrix was incredibly under rated as a composer of great ballads and or love songs. While Hendrix analysis is often redundant, his melodic senseabilities and penchant for writing beautiful love songs is often undervalued. Tracks like "Little Wing", "Angel", "The Wind Cries Mary" are a few examples of this ability. This version of "Buring of the Midnight Lamp" reminds me of these talents, and is a fantasic performance.
     Next up is the only repeat between the matnee and evening performance, "Foxy Lady", which is a powerhouse display similar in scope to the earlier version of the tune. "Manic Depression" follows closely on the feedback trail left by "Foxy Lady" and becomes a marathon version, full of drama. The entire band has again locked into one another through the diverse changes of the tune. The bell chime of Mitchell's cymbal is upfront on the recording, and sets the tempo for the raving guitar solo the inhabits the middle of the song. Hendrix paints a lunatic's portrait with large multicolored strokes of his guitar. The jam reaches stratospheric heights and then plummets straight to earth, only to stop one inch from the ground, and then fire straight to the sky again. Hendrix is putting on a clinic for his Midwestern fans who are witnesses to magic and invention.
     What comes next is the most painful, yet mind blowing part of the performance. A unique and well played version of "Hoochie Coochie Man"closes the recording and what I assume to be the end of the show. Written by Willie Dixon and first recorded by Muddy Waters, "Hoochie Coochie Man" is a quintessential example of the blues, and its influence on Hendrix's playing. Once in a while Jimi would break out a rare blues cover and redefine it live on the concert stage. This is one of those nights and the crowd is gifted for their enthusiasm for the show. Unfortunately this recording cuts before the song ends and in the middle of some mind blowing music. At 3 minutes Jimi lets loose with a blues redefined and highly electrified solo. Licks like falling water, cascade and coalesce into one another. The band swells like one giant organism, and Jimi peels off riff after thrilling blues riff  twisted originally in his own unique fashion. At around four minutes there is a small Noel spotlight where Jimi does a call and response with his afro headed bass player. Jimi then heads into a power scrubbing solo that brings the tune to a apocalyptic peak before dropping out to do a small call and response with Mitch. Before this segment can complete the tape cuts off, thus signaling the end of "our" performance.
     This document of two Jimi Hendrix Experience performances at the peak of their power is a must listen for any major fan of the Hendrix catalog. Cursory fans may find it difficult listening but the treasures to be unearthed are numerous and worthy. This recording finds the Experience learning how to play together and like a child with a new toy, experimenting and having a good time doing it. The band a comet streaking across the night sky, short lived, but illuminated and intense, flashing bright before disappearing into rock history. Before long Hendrix would be switching band members, writing new and diverse music, and continuing to change the way guitars are played. "Put this boot in", and become a witness to a moment in rock history privileged few were able to witness and we can still relive.



Red House-2-28-1968 FIRST SHOW











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