Jimi Hendrix Experience– Winterland 4-CD Box Set – Experience Hendrix/ Legacy Editions
The Hendrix family continues its prolific series of releases with this latest set, four CDs culled from three nights at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco between October 10-12, 1968. The six performances, recorded by the legendary Wally Heider, have already proven to contain some of the best sounding and most exciting of the many, many hours of live Hendrix material in the vaults. Ryko chose it as one of their first projects when they took over Hendrix reissues in the eighties, releasing an essential single disc collection in 1987. This reissue expands the offerings to four discs (five if you get it at Amazon), and makes a good case that where live Hendrix is concerned, more really is more.
Each of the first three discs in the set recreates a 75-minute set from each of the three nights, combining tracks from the early and late shows, with alternate takes chosen from all six shows on disc four. The set lists are similar but not identical, and only “Purple Haze” appears on every disc.
What’s fascinating while listening to the set in sequence is observing how the band’s collective mood could change from night to night, even from first set to second set. On opening night, the 10th, drummer Mitch Mitchell sounds a little too stoned, losing the beat while trying out new tricks as witnessed in the flailing drum solo that takes place in “Tax Free”. Hendrix himself sounds a bit tired of playing the hits, mumbling “Yeah here I come baby, coming to get ya, you know the song goes…” before the final feedback climax of “Foxey Lady” like he can’t wait to be done plowing through this shit one more time. The band’s trying new stuff, playing the song at a slower tempo than usual, but it’s not working. There are some moments where the whole thing comes together, as on a smoking run through “Hear My Train a’Comin’” that make it a worthwhile listen, but it’s possible at times to hear them firing at less than full power.
But a good night’s sleep – or whatever substitution for sleep one could find in San Francisco in 1968 – makes a big difference, and at the following night’s show, Mitchell is back on form, and the band is both tighter and more confident in its ability to take it far out. “Are You Experienced” finds a way to work as a live number, pivoting off the central chord changes into a lengthy guitar exploration. This time, Hendrix overcomes the familiarity of his old hits by re-arranging them on the spot. He extends the instrumentals, adds new chord changes, and makes the band vamp on the “Fire” groove for what seems like hours before letting the vocals kick in, teasing with little guitar licks, then finally giving us the resolution we’ve been made to crave. When the songs finally kick in, he plays what’s left of them like he means it. The improvement from the first night is obvious.
By the third night, the group is unstoppable. Much of the set has a schizophrenic split between their fastest and slowest numbers, but a sustained intensity, and they’re taking a lot of pleasure in their ability to drive it hard, even at the speed of molasses. Their half-speed take on “Like A Rolling Stone”, which plodded a little on the 11th, is one of the killers tonight, as is a spare, laid-back version of “Little Wing” that sounds like the model for Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover. Their instrumental romp through “Sunshine Of Your Love” heads off into wildly different directions than it did on the 10th, with the band going for funky breaks rather than noodling solos.
But when they switch to damage mode for a rare performance of “Manic Depression”, you can almost see the heads of 5,500 audience members coming clean off. This is the Hendrix Bill Hicks talked about, the space alien that wields a dick like a chainsaw. The closing medley of “Hey Joe”, Purple Haze” and “Wild Thing” is short and sweet, punchy, played like a real singles band that really wants to be liked, right up to the moment that “Wild Thing” dissolves into feedback hell, where it remains for several minutes. At the end of it, you almost have to laugh at what a perfect summation it is of Hendrix’s best and most extreme qualities, all represented in a single set.
A single disc edition will be offered for cheapskates, but with Amazon pricing the complete set at $41 right now, I suggest going for the whole thing. The exclusive fifth Amazon CD includes something called “Catfish Blues” as well as a two-part take on “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” which we haven’t heard but sure do sound interesting.