The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Winterland

May we have the rest, please?

Bootleg enthusiasts have long basked in the
improvisational majesty of the various
packages documenting Jimi Hendrix’s mini-residency
at San Francisco’s Winterland
Ballroom in mid-October 1968. Debating the
merits of one set against another has, no
doubt, whiled away plenty of discussion forum
hours for all sorts of guitar-niks; and now
here’s the official version, which is both a
revelation – if you’ve never had the treat of
hearing this material – and a source of some
frustration, were you an original booster.

The document is a bit of an in-betweener,
and something of an oxymoron as far as
compendious box sets go. It’s rangy (you get
Delta blues, guileless pop, mad psych,
proto-metal) and crammed with enough
material that you’ll need a few hours to plow
through all of it. But it’s also a bastardisation,
really, of the original tapes – albeit, in
better sound quality.

That’s because about half of what’s
available has been lopped off. Instead of
getting the two full sets from each of the three
nights of the engagement, you get one set for
each night, plus a bonus disc of stray
Winterland cuts and an interview. Dabblers will
be overwhelmed, completists horrified.

Logistics aside, there’s the matter of the
music, which is up there with stalwarts such
as the best of the Top Gear material, or the
famed, lusty Monterey performance. The latter
had a more marked degree of showmanship
that you don’t get here, as there’s a
workmanlike element to these proceedings:
less flash-and-dash, and more honest-to-goodness,
roll-up-the-shirt-sleeves-and-flail-at-your-
axe music-making. Hendrix’s guitar isn’t
at the fore in the manner of the latterday
Experience sets – or when he was with his
various festival bands – but is instead
balanced against Mitch Mitchell’s deeply-resonant
drums and Noel Redding’s heavily-distorted
bass. Mitchell flies around his kit on
the various versions of Hey Joe like he’s aping
Keith Moon, clearing space for Hendrix to
uncork solos that challenge the precepts of
blues music by making it an interstellar,
rather than earthly, concern.

Despite the intensity, which builds across
the evenings, until bubbling over on one of
the juicier versions of Wild Thing you’ll ever
hear, Hendrix was also a man who clearly
enjoyed a joke, and he’s a gas in his role as
shambling MC. Before ripping into the
Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love on the 10
October disc, Hendrix informs one and all that
the band would like to pay tribute to Eric
Clapton and company, adding, “It’s not
saying that we can play anything better than
them,” before snickering under his breath,
and attempting to – surprise – play the cut
better than Cream ever did. A fun bit of
gamesmanship and rock star ego on display,
it’s not as satisfying as the two takes on Tax
Free, with their whorled guitar figures,
which make you feel like you’re being
sucked down a funnel and off to God knows
where. The sweet music of departure at its
finest.

4 stars 4 stars 4 stars 4 stars

Sony/Experience Hendrix | 88697953752 (4CD)

Reviewed by Colin Fleming
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