Today in the ‘rock room’ spins a fantastic hi fidelity audience recording documenting the May 10th evening performance at Fillmore East. I am listening to a lossless file set taken from a silver pressed CD titled, The Jimi Hendrix Experience Fillmore East 2nd Show and pressed by “No Label”. This particular audience recording has been circulating for a number of years, under an array of different titles but has usually contained a number of aural issues. The aforementioned version I am enjoying is the most complete thus far, has a minimum of cuts and is sonically stunning. The vibe of the venue is tangible on the recording and Hendrix’s guitar has its face against the glass. Redding’s bass is audible and Mitchell’s multifarious attack across his kit can be felt as well as heard. There is a sly psychedelic lilt to Hendrix’s playing, culminating in a crushing and closing version of ‘Purple Haze’. In addition to the amazing playing are a couple rare musical nuggets placed in the setlist that will excite any Hendrix Experience fan.
This particular era for the Experience found them enormously popular, prolifically creative and playing seditious concerts throughout the year that left audiences stunned while growing Hendrix’s legend. Jimi’s fame was ascending at a furious rate and he was revolutionizing guitar with every concert and recording produced. Which takes us back to May 10, 1968’s evening performance. Following the afternoon concert and evening concert’s opening act, ‘Sly and the Family Stone, Hendrix took the stage to a sold out room. The Joshua Light Show morphing the stage into a pulsating, liquescent musical mass.
The evening begins with ‘Lover Man’, an extended introduction features an exotic bit of riffing illustrating Hendrix is feeling frisky this spring evening in NYC. Jimi’s guitar tone is paunchy and the sound of Bill Graham’s room is crystalline. The Experience stomps through their opening number with deft precision. The first Hendrix solo takes off with Redding’s giant bass grumble setting the foundation. Jimi immediately struts his stuff with a vertiginous series of soaring and diving bends. Devastating stuff, and the crowd responds in kind.
Hendrix is obviously in a groovy mood as he and Noel Redding takes a chance to speak to the crowd following ‘Fire’. Hendrix quotes the opening riff of the Beach Boys ‘Surfing USA’, saying he ‘had a big flash’. Foxy lady follows, possibly related to the ‘Surfin USA’ quote and begins with the buzzing of electricity and hissing of overdriven amplifiers. The band is frightening in their sound, Jimi barley stays tethered to the earth during the first solo spot. What begins as a smooth bluesy exploration quickly becomes a clinic of molten strings and elongated bends, Jimi’s lady in see through top and hot pants.
A pause between the songs, features someone from the crowd yelling to the stage, ‘Take off your hat!’ To which Jimi replies, I’ll Take off my hat if you take off your pants’. The centerpiece of the show then follows and is a deep and conversational reading of a 15 minute ‘Red House’. What makes this reading even more special is that Hendrix breaks out his black right handed 1956 Les Paul Custom for this rendition. There are pictures by famed rock photographer Elliott Landy available for perusal which immortalize this moment. Three different Gibson Les Paul’s were owned by Jimi Hendrix, but the 56’ may be the most beautiful. The following ‘Red House’ ranges from delicate to distorted and then decorated with silvery strands of feedback. Hendrix does a call and response throughout the verses with his six string vocals
‘Red House’ begins, with a delicate groove and smooth probing by Hendrix. His tone, a sweet velvet beam, or a musical insect exploring for the rich pollen payoff. While ‘Red House’ was nearly always a highlight of Hendrix shows, here it ascends to different and multiple levels. The journey over yonder is filled with detours and unique fragments maybe not always related buy nonetheless stunning. Hendrix’s guitar positively moans during the prelude. The sound improves on the recording unbelievably as the cymbals and bass are not as loud so Hendrix’s tone can be discerned reverberating off of the walls of the hall.
Hendrix lets out a couple ‘Yea’s’ early on and lays on the blues thick with perfectly placed notes and absurd bends. At approximately two minutes and twenty seconds Jimi switches pickups to a rounder more overdriven sound. The first verses take their time getting to Hendrix’s baby with patient vocals and a smoky groove. Each verse is responded too with a singing guitar melody, when Hendrix mentions that the ‘key wont unlock this door’, he manifests a deep magenta stream of reverberating decay. Maybe a minor display but one that makes Jimi the best ever. Hendrix, sets the stage for the first solo break with a ‘Look out’, then a deeply felt metallic bend.
|By Elliott Landy|
Hendrix lets loose with a plethora of rutted and gravel filled licks and with a nonverbal signal takes a spin around the drive with dirty trill to which Mitchell matches with a tempo increase. Let off his leash Jimi begins to move at a different time and space than Noel and Mitch diverging into his rock and roll tool belt with some inexplicably abrasive takes on recognizable licks. At seven minutes, Redding and Mitchell come to the forefront as a delicate shuffle coagulates. Hendrix taps his strings, a breeze pushing the jam forward. Mitchell takes a brief solo spot as Redding and Hendrix fade. The crowd appreciates his abilities and responds in kind. At around ten minutes Hendrix returns with a succulent watery tone from his wah-wah, the band drops out as Jimi constructs a hallucinatory narrative. Someone in the crowd whistles and before too long Hendrix pulls the rip cord. From a bit after twelve minutes forward Jimi scribbles out a letter to his girl and nails it to the front door of the ‘Red House’ with a blade. The letter is dizzying and aggressive and leaves nothing to chance. A return to the verses is a welcome relief from the jaw clenching Hendrix solo spot.
A substantial wall of soaring feedback follows and precedes a strutting and crowd pleasing ‘Hey Joe’. This is the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the peak of their fame in one of the most famous music venues in history, playing one of their most popular cuts. The song is ignited with high octane gas and burned to ash.
A quick ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ snippet, not long enough to qualify as a song is introduced as, ‘That was the Monkees, now we’d like to do something by the Monkees’ to the crowd’s great amusement. Hendrix replies, ‘we have to keep things balanced’. A small tune up and Jimi plucks out the elastic opening lick of ‘Hear my Train’. In late 1967 on the BBC the Experience played a formative version of what would come to be known as ‘Hear My Train a Comin’. Hendrix also referred to the song as ‘Lonesome Train’, or ‘Getting My Heart Back Together’; and like ‘Red House’ the song would become one of Hendrix’s show shopping astro blues numbers. The tasty musical gruel was comprised of a heaping spoonful of Delta blues, a dropper of Oswley’s finest and the electric sensibilities of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. The imagery is classic blues with the main symbolism of the train referencing freedom, something always at the core of Hendrix’s songwriting. Here, on May 10th, 1968 is an early formative version of ‘Hear My Train’ comes smoking uncontrollably down the track.
It sounds to the ‘rock room’ that Jimi has returned to the Gibson he donned during ‘Red House’, but I cannot confirm that. His tone is thick and sweet as the richest New York maple. Mitchell stomps out ‘Train’s churning groove. Hendrix places well timed exclamations from his strings that elicit front porch blues gatherings from southern jukes. Jimi pauses to introduce the song as ‘Something we’ve never done before’, before singing the introductory verse.
Autobiographical but still firmly rooted in the blues, Hendrix testifies while harmonizing with his instrument. The first solo break immediately jumps the track and begins a runaway journey downhill. Hendrix snarls as he plays a variation on the central theme, fully overdriven and setting the table for the next series of courses he is ready to serve. Hendrix has a plump organic fuzz to his playing, Redding continues to grumble leaving a comfortable station for Hendrix to return from his journey.
The intensity increases, Jimi grabs a hold of a trilling riff on the lower part of the next causing the music to swirl. Mitchell throws his kit down the stairs and Jimi starts to use feedback to develop his next series of string narrative. His tone grows even gruffer and suddenly at round five minutes and twenty the train leaves the tracks and takes off streaking across the night sky, a human made comet, a UFO, musical disorientation and aural chaos ensues. Jimi rides the E string back to the verse licks, bringing the band dynamics down before letting off the gas for the third verse. Following the concluding vocals, Hendrix returns to his trademark vocal/guitar harmonization for the songs outro peak with a series of ‘Here My Train’ exclamations that bring the stunned crowd to their feet.
After a cut on the recording a nimble and somewhat rare cover of Bob Dylan’s 1965 single, ‘Please Crawl out Your Window’ follows. Hendrix was a huge admirer of Dylan, illustrated by his covers of ‘Drifters Escape, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, ‘Watchtower’ and the aforementioned ‘Crawl out Your Window’. This live reading remains close to Dylan’s studio recording with Hendrix singing really well. What the ‘rock room’ finds wonderful is Hendrix’s portrayal of guitarist Robbie Robertson’s solo breaks which he plays perfectly. The lightning fast version is topped off with a succinct ‘shave and a haircut’ conclusion.
A considerable sonic prelude comes next, creeping across the stage like a psychoactive fog. Hendrix brings to life flashes of war, peace, truth and lies through his sound experimentation. Similar to previous preludes as ‘Are You Experienced’ and foreshadowing his Woodstock soundscape coming in 1969, this found sound preface is one of the major highlights of the show. Hendrix turns the Fillmore East into a deep space aquarium, bubbling space melodies appear before dissolving into blue atmospheres. Things detonate before soaring away unknowingly, suddenly the undulating introduction to ‘Purple Haze’ appears.
‘Purple Haze’ is suffocating, in a good way. Played with a studio standard, the Experience crowns their evening concert with stunning and ear splitting perfection. Before a breath can be taken by the collective crowd the band readies to enter into the set closing ‘Wild Thing’. The song is unfortunately cut, but what is available is consistent with the rest of the show….amazing. Hendrix introduces the song as a ‘delta blues’ after asking the crowd to singalong with the band. The volume is thunderous and the excitement and enthusiasm is tangible on the antiqued field recording. As previously stated ‘Wild Thing’ cuts quickly, but its reverberations echo through the spheres.
With the plethora of stellar Hendrix material available to hardcore fans, in addition to his own limited discography it is often difficult to pinpoint the ‘best’ concerts. In the case of Fillmore East 1968, we are lucky to have an audience recording with such amazing fidelity. In addition to the tapes sonic gifts, the capture found one of the most amazing artists our planet has ever witnessed in his prime. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Superlatives often fail to express what Hendrix and his band did for rock and roll music, so now we can just sit back, and let the music play tell us the tale.
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