The Jimi Handrix Experience – [Album]

Thursday, 02 August 2012

As good as the releases and catalogue reissues bearing the Jimi Hendrix name have been over the last couple of years (Sony has been much more careful with the work than EMI ever was), it was almost inevitable that something was going to come along which would tarnish that record. That release is Live At Berkeley – a document which is very representative of its time in all the wrong ways. The problem with it? Simply said, while the sound quality is excellent, Hendrix succumbs early to the decadence of the decade during which the show was played only recovers from that in passing at most.

The going on Live At Berkeley gets questionable right from the outset as, after introducing himself and the Experience to an uncomfortably quiet room, Hendrix excuses himself for a few minutes to tune his instrument. Now, the practice of tuning onstage was common in the Seventies – before a bunch of punks reminded guitarists that they could buy an electronic tuner and actually take the stage ready to go to work – but any producer worth his sand could have edited the dead air out of this recording i post-production and spared listeners the reminder of times gone by. It's not a great way to start and listeners' frustration will only get deeper as, after tuning up, the Experience meanders its way into a seven-minute, instrumental jam which is only of interest because it's Jimi Hendrix playing; it would be pretty forgettable otherwise.

Listeners' fortunes don't start to get better in the Live At Berkeley run-time until Hendrix just sort of falls ass-backwards into haphazard grace in his performance of “Stone Free” There, as that staccato guitar figure swaggers in, the pieces (being Cox, Mitchell and Hendrix himself) just seem to lock in and catch fire spontaneously in a sort of new-soul frenzy. The march of this performance is infectious and the first real ray of hope here even if it isn't perfect (listeners can hear Hendrix sway back from the mic regularly, because his vocal fades often) but it is a definite improvement over the set's rough start; the going gets better still as this set's take of “Hey Joe” proves to be an awesome and incendiary addition to the canon and the version of “Machine Gun” found here overshadows almost all of those which have come out before. There are a few further rough patches between “Machine Gun” and the end of Berkeley's run-time (I found “Foxey Lady” lacking, and I've never liked the versions of “Star Spangled Banner” that Hendrix played, but that may simply be a matter of personal taste), but this set ends well with a really cool, scrappy and short take of “Purple Haze” as well as a molten, orgasmic performance of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” that every fan should hear.

“Trash” and “must-hear” all in the same set? Yes, there are example of both extremes on Live At Berkeley, and that's what makes trying to encapsulate the show in a review difficult. How does it stack up against the multitude of other Hendrix live discs which have come out over the years? Well, there are much better and more consistent shows to be found, but more devout fans will find the great moments on this one to be worth the wading through the weak. If they do indeed elect to wade through it, at least they'll be able to say they did – and then decide for themselves if they want to grab the versions of “Stone Free,” “Machine Gun,” “Purple Haze” and “Voodoo Child” from iTunes.



Live At Berkeley
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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