Monday, March 08, 2010

Concert Review: Jimi Hendrix - The 1970 Isle Of Wight Music Festival

Isle Of Wight Festival 1970

Jimi Hendrix

'Yeah ... Thank you very much for showing up, man, you all look really beautiful and outa sight ... And thanks for waiting. It has been a long time, hasn't it? ... That does mean peace not this ... Peace ... OK give us about a minute to tune up, all right? Give us about a minute' - Jimi Hendrix addresses the festival crowd - Monday, Aug. 31, 1970

It is summer and I'm sixteen. I look down at my brother who is asleep on a small patch of ground. A patch of ground that has been our home for three days and nights. We have sleeping bags, some food and drink, body aches, and above us a dark blue sky patterned with stars and planets. Someone stole our tent the day we arrived. Our musical pilgrimage has included travel by ferries, hitchhiking day and night, sharing cars and vans with some people who engendered - within us - curiosity, terror, or both. Why? To hear and feel music played by some of the greatest musicians and bands to grace this planet.

Despite negativity in the media regarding management of the festival, unrest amongst fans, overt commercialization, drug dealers, heavy security, the attendance of Hell's Angels and so-called anarchists, I feel instilled in a carefree, happy environment. The vibe is cool and the people in our vicinity are friendly, and, like us, engrossed in the diversity of music and performers. Everyone enjoys gazing at other people in the crowd; mainly at clothes, painted faces, hair, partial nakedness.

As I walk through the crowd I regain energy from the music weaving through the air. The sounds of acoustic guitars, drums, singing, chanting; the human landscape of multi-coloured clothes, tousled hair of every shade and length, and pretty girls - some dancing in erotic fashion as the evening sun glints in their hair - arouse delight and passion. The mood and smells are intoxicating. I suddenly wish to be older. Finding my brother, and our mutual space, is aided by our closeness to the stage - 150 meters - and the positioning of numerous flags rich in diversity and colour.

Most people have witnessed memorable performances by Taste, Free, Chicago, Family, The Who, Jethro Tull, Miles Davis, The Doors, and other artists. Music of all genres played by superlative musicians and bands. Days and hours of beautiful images and vibrations in the air, our hearts and souls.

It is a cold dark morning. A collective cry of joy and relief raises from the crowd (circa 600,000) as Jimi's arrival on stage is announced. 

Shortly after 2.00 a.m. the eyes of those lucky to be awake - and standing - are centered on one individual walking towards the front of the stage. Jimi Hendrix is dressed in a colourful garment with long trailing sleeves. He is cradling a black and white fender stratocaster. There is no crush or discomfort, just lights, colours, darkness, people waking, coughing, rubbing their eyes. I try to wake my brother. Gradually, he opens his eyes and sits motionless. I tell him to stand; Jimi is on stage.

A cold beauty descends as I gaze at Jimi and his backdrop of daisy-chained Marshall stacks. For a moment I'm fearful of tumbling, being crushed, or losing my brother, as people start to move closer to the stage. I think of the inventive music and guitar solos Jimi has created. The first time I heard "Purple Haze" is ingrained in my memory. How could someone compose such a song? The opening riff using tritones is incredible. I can hardly grasp I'm going to witness for the first time Jimi Hendrix in concert.

To me, music is an emotional roller-coaster to be experienced live; captured with your eyes and ears and if it fails to change your emotions, feelings, then move on to music that does. A live performance can't be captured on vinyl, video, CD, DVD. Such mediums fail to convey the potpourri of images, colours, sounds, and volume which make your inner being glow.

As Jimi speaks, sings, plays his guitar, the crowd watch in silence mesmerized by his magical charisma, stage presence, mercurial rhythms and soaring solos. I cheer, and shout - like most people - after each song. My tiredness replaced by immense energy.

The frost melts as Jimi plays "Spanish Castle Magic". It sounds like a hot, bright light breaking through the black, blue and white formations created by the stage lights. Jimi's guitar playing reaches a higher level; soaring, electrifying, intense. His vocals are full of sensuality, power, and during the final solo his guitar sound becomes surreal; licks, distortion, and feedback create an expansive dreamy sound.
' . . . That's if we travel by our dragonfly . . . '

While it is evident there are technical problems with Jimi's amplification, pedals, and guitars (mostly going out of tune) his voice, phrasing, and guitar playing are exceptional, soul-stirring. Jimi sings "All Along the Watchtower" passionately. His soloing is enhanced by feedback and infectious interplay with Billy Cox on bass. I believe Jimi is blessed to have Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass as his rhythm section. They bring out the best in Jimi. Mitch shows he is an imaginative and multi-dimensional drummer, and Billy plays fluid and tight, with a deep intuitive skill, matching Jimi pattern for pattern. Jimi's playing is remarkable as it takes different twists and turns.

The patterns weaved by Jimi and Billy Cox are hypnotic during “ Machine Gun” and once again Jimi creates some outstanding runs and sounds. Jimi plays soft, raw, loud, and seems to move in the direction of the sound he is trying to create. At times, it appears to be a struggle and there is tension in his playing. Then the rhythm changes and the trio synthesize again to paint a different musical landscape.

Adorning a “Flying V” Jimi plays a wonderful rendition of “ Red House” - Jimi played the blues as well as anyone; tasteful playing conjointly with his unique voice and phrasing. It was great to hear new numbers: “Freedom,” ”Dolly Dagger,” and “Hey Baby (Land of the New Rising Sun)”. 

Jimi pulled a blistering version of "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" out of the bag. His guitar sounded heavily distorted and the notes rained down sprinkled with Jimi's unique creative powers.

For Jimi, the band, and some of the audience, the show may have been uneven. However, the set showed an innovator and experimenter reaching out to his audience with his music, guitar, and colourful tapestries. I still believe Jimi's set was the defining moment of the festival. For those fortunate to come of age during the 1960's Jimi Hendrix raised the bar, and brought unparalleled power, sensuality, and sustained resurrection to guitar playing, song writing, and performance. He exuded a contagious charisma, spirit, rarely witnessed by any musician, past or present.

No-one knows what Jimi's state of mind was during his last month on this earth. I believe, however, he had new horizons to explore musically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is often forgotten that while Jimi was a guitar virtuoso, and an instrumentalist of profound influence, he was also an incredibly gifted, first-rate songwriter. Jimi's vocal style - underrated in some musical quarters, including his own - complemented his guitar playing.

Jimi's artistic gifts, music, and guitar playing will continue to astound future listeners' as long as music exists. His memorable riffs and lyrics will reverberate wherever sound can be heard. I occasionally think of this concert. I like the imperfections which make Jimi's performance like life. When I watch or listen to the music on CD, DVD, I feel sadness that the greatest, most innovative, and iconic guitarist of all time, died so tragically young.

Set List: God Save the Queen; Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; Spanish Castle Magic; All Along the Watchtower; Machine Gun; Lover Man; Freedom; Red House; Dolly Dagger; Midnight Lightning; Foxey Lady; Message to Love; Hey Baby (Land of the New Rising Sun); Ezy Rider; Hey Joe; Purple Haze; Voodoo Child (Slight Return); In from the Storm.

I didn't mean to take up all your sweet time
I'll give it right back one of these days
If I don't see you any more in this world
I'll meet you in the next one
And don't be late,
Don't be late
'Cos I'm a Voodoo Child
God knows I'm a Voodoo Child

                                                             - Jimi Hendrix