The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Live at Monterey
#1 Boxed Set/Live Album/Music DVD for 2007
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2007, Volume 14, #10
Written by John Metzger
The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 has been available for years in an array of audio and video formats. Live at Monterey is yet another permutation of D.A. Pennebaker’s films Monterey Pop and its offshoot Jimi Plays Monterey. To say, however, that there is nothing revelatory about its latest incarnation in separate CD and DVD packages would be to miss the point entirely. To put it bluntly, one of the most important and exhilarating performances in the history of rock ’n‘ roll has never looked or sounded better.
The histories of both the Monterey International Pop Festival and Jimi Hendrix’s emergence from the British music scene have been told so frequently that they have become pop culture legends. Yet, understanding the background is a crucial component to comprehending the bigger picture. Initially conceived as a single-day commercial concert, the Monterey International Pop Festival blossomed into a weekend-long charity event that succeeded in its attempt to bring credibility to the burgeoning rock scene. In the preceding nine months, Hendrix had moved to London and taken the U.K. by storm, though he remained a relatively unknown commodity in the United States. By fusing vintage footage with previously unreleased and newly conducted interviews, these stories are repeated in the documentary American Landing that opens the DVD rendition of Live at Monterey, thus providing the context for everything that follows.
There’s no doubt that part of Hendrix’s mystique was dependent upon the visual aspects of his stage show. Consequently, although the soundtrack to Live at Monterey makes a fine album — and it features one song (Can You See Me) that wasn’t filmed — Hendrix’s performance must be seen in order to appreciate fully what he accomplished. As amazing as his delivery was, it’s all the more intoxicating to watch how he manipulated the audience. At Monterey, Hendrix not only was aware that he had everything to prove, but he also had complete confidence in knowing that what he was about to do would cause quite stir.
Introduced by the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, Hendrix took the stage and launched into a rapid-fire rendition of Howling Wolf’s Killing Floor. Fueled by the caffeinated rhythm supplied by bass player Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, the song immediately was urgent and gripping. Although Hendrix tossed off the kinds of guitar riffs that he could play in his sleep, the intensity of his performance demanded attention, and the glint in his eye indicated that he had a few tricks stuffed up his sleeve.
With each passing tune in his perfectly paced set, Hendrix raised the ante. He played guitar between his legs, behind his back, and with his teeth, and like the cosmic flight director he was, Hendrix masterfully coaxed the audience through a multitude of moods. He was aware that his reputation had preceded him, and he used this to his advantage, teasing and taunting the crowd at every turn. He reveled in the feverishly sensual drive of Foxey Lady, the gentle beauty of The Wind Cries Mary, and the hard-driving, psychedelic angst of Purple Haze. Elsewhere, B.B. King’s Rock Me Baby was turned into a furiously thrashing, crash-and-burn blast of white-hot heat, while Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone was tender and seductive, yet undeniably dangerous. Through it all, Hendrix’s highly combustible solos never failed to hit their mark, and each seemed to build upon the one before it as he carefully laid a path that could only lead to a full-scale release of the tension he was creating.
Somehow, someway, Hendrix simultaneously was living completely within the moment while also working his way through a script that he cleverly had mapped out in his head. The music that emanated from the stage was raw and visceral, and even 40 years later, it is impossible to turn away from watching him perform his madman’s march. After a few cryptic words of warning, he cajoled a wall of feedback and distortion from his guitar before guiding Redding and Mitchell straight into the heady, heavy sludge of Chip Taylor’s Wild Thing. Tucking a snippet from Frank Sinatra’s 1966 hit Strangers in the Night into the tune’s mid-section, Hendrix effectively co-opted and upended the pop universe. He further broadened the cultural and generational divides by pressing his guitar against an amp and simulating sexual intercourse. He then crouched over his instrument, doused it with lighter fluid, and set it on fire before bringing his set to an abrupt conclusion by manically swinging his guitar over his head and smashing it to bits. His antics, of course, were shocking to the assembled crowd — the cameras captured the reaction with long, lingering looks at a few faces — and The Who’s own explosive outpouring was made to seem like child’s play. Nevertheless, while Hendrix’s theatrics certainly helped to create a buzz and attract a wealth of attention, it was his talent and charisma that made him a star.
Live at Monterey comes padded with intriguing extras, too. Six cameras were used to film the event, and for several tracks, viewers can create their own visuals to accompany the music by flipping through the array of footage that was shot. The set also includes a small photo gallery as well as an additional interview segment with Lou Adler, one of the organizers of the Monterey International Pop Festival. Of most interest, however, is the rare glimpse at the Jimi Hendrix Experience performing in a small club in Chelmsford, England in February 1967. The audio is fuzzy, and the picture is grainy. Nevertheless, the material is priceless. Even without the bonus features, however, Live at Monterey is, without a doubt, essential viewing. It is a rare, historical artifact that hasn’t lost any of its edge.
Of Further Interest...
Live at Monterey is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box