In what has to be the mother of all Jimi Hendrix tributes, this year's cast of characters on the revolving door known as the Experience Hendrix Tour was a mighty one. As an at-capacity crowd at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall discovered on Thursday night, the love and admiration that is still felt for the legendary, groundbreaking, genre-melding, guitar hero is as strong among his fans as it is with the countless number of musicians he influenced during his short time on earth.
From his arrival on the scene in 1967, Hendrix blazed some mighty guns; fronting one of the greatest rock trios of all time, he and his band The Experience overturned stereotypes and preconceptions when they released their legendary debut, Are You Experienced?. For three brief years, Hendrix threw every convention out the window in regard to reinventing the connection between the electric guitar and its player with a slew of great albums and legendary live performances to his credit. Any good guitarist since his stratospheric emergence owes a mighty debt to the Seattle native. The dynamic package of his presence, his look, his onstage charisma and engaging vocals remains unparalleled by any other axeman since his untimely death in 1970; but, for one night, a collection of his most loyal devotees gathered on a stage to pay their respects to the legend.
After a brief introduction from Janie Hendrix, Jimi's younger sister and former Band of Gypsies bassist Billy Cox, the pair enthusiastically assured the already hooting and hollering audience that it was in for a real treat and a long night of music. And they didn't lie. "Its a party at the electric church!" Cox yelled...and the festivities had begun.
As the assembled lineup took turns onstage and traded off instruments and guitar solos, it was evident that the catalog of great music Hendrix left behind would be resurrected in the most faithful and sincere way possible and that every guitarist that took the stage at any part of the night was a rightful guitar hero in his own right.
With so many fine moments and jaw-dropping excursions into the deep, soulful, sensuous musical land Hendrix created through his vision and art, it's hard to pinpoint any one defining moment of the nearly-three hour guitar extravaganza.
A smoking version of "Stone Free" performed early in the night featuring Cox on vocals and Dweezil Zappa and Indigenous lead guitarist Mato Nanji trading off red hot licks sure got things off on the right foot. From there, a nonstop onslaught of Hendrix tunes, some more recognizable than others to the casual fan, continued to take flight and fill the hall with some of the absolute best (and loudest) axe work anyone in attendance is sure to hear for many years to come.
A short intermission made way for more sparkling performances by youthful whiz kids Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who followed a couple of impressive numbers from blues man Keb' Mo. The tall, slender vocalist wore his trademark pork pie hat and looked at ease in vest and faded jeans as he poured out a shimmering version of "Killing Floor."
Shepherd might have delivered the night's most jaw-dropping moments, however. His forays into "Gypsy Eyes" and "Voodoo Child" proved mesmerizing. His straight blonde hair fluttered furiously as he squeezed every bit of firepower out of his worn, beaten Fender Stratocaster. As wildly improvisational as he is disciplined, the 38-year old literally raised the roof off the place with a dynamite performance that also benefited greatly by awesome vocals from his own band's lead singer, Noah Hunt.
Wrapping the night with "Them Changes" and "Red House," the remaining ensemble delivered amazing versions of the final songs and encouraged the still captive audience to stand up and enjoy the party. In a true testament to the power and the majesty of the great Jimi Hendrix, the mostly middle-aged crowd gladly obliged and came to their feet, sang along, busted their best air guitar moves, and let go of inhibitions for a moment while paying homage to the ultimate guitar hero. The impressive group of musicians who assembled for this loving and reverent travelling tribute to Hendrix made damn sure we were all experienced for the duration of the long night of guitar wizardry.
Wait Until Tomorrow
Love or Confusion
Third Stone From The Sun
Are You Experienced?
All Along The Watchtower
The Wind Cries Mary
Spanish Castle Magic