Jimi Hendrix Experience
Live in Maui
So the story goes, that ratfink manager (Michael Jeffery) managed to score a couple of million for Hendrix to play in Hawaii and for a doco to be made – the manager made off with half of it and left a mild catastrophe to unfold. The film was a botch and Hendrix, already well-bored of being a hits jukebox and looking – constantly – to explore agreed to ‘reforming’ The Experience but it was a hybrid version of his bands – namely Mitch Mitchell back in on drums and Band of Gypsies’ Billy Cox on bass instead of Noel Redding.
Whatever the mess that was Rainbow Bridge – a pseudo-doco/concert-film with an attempt at some narrative, in the way then of the hippie daze (and time hasn’t been kind) – the actual music, particularly the stuff we didn’t get to hear at the time, is often extraordinary.
Here, finally, we have the two sets that went down in Maui to make the soundtrack portions of the film and to allow Hendrix to unwind, as was his way, seeking the higher plane and spiritual transcendence through music
Live in Maui is often mind-blowing, certainly its best moments have a vitality in keeping with Hendrix at his very best. I believe this version of the Experience to be the finest he ever harnessed – nothing wrong with Buddy Miles as a drummer at all but I just don’t feel him with Jimi; his role seemed more to be the alternative vocalist. Mitch, though, he was put on earth to play drums in a Hendrix band. His rolls and fills exist because of the spaces carved out by the guitar of one James Marshall Hendrix. And Cox is the bass player for Jimi too. Noel Redding was only ever filling a role.
So this full sound – as full as a trio is ever going to get – just takes off and never lets up. The first set kicks off with brand new material, Hendrix in jam-mode, his favourite setting. New Baby (New Rising Sun) and In From The Storm feature all three players and there’s a near punk-ish energy forming. That comes in handy when the required run through the hits arrives, mid-set. Hendrix wanted to be done with playing Purple Haze and Fire and the like but he did it anyway. Foxey Lady has harsh edges here, the crash cymbals coming thick and fast to provide extra punctuation, you almost imagine the Maui waves crashing all around them on that makeshift stage as the band barely tames this savage beast of a song.
After scratching out the intro to Voodoo Child (Slight Return) Hendrix basically pins back the ears of the song and lets it hurtle – it’s one of the most extraordinary readings of one of his most incendiary tunes. And from its ashes the riff to Fire arrives with Jimi even calling out that this is the last time. That’s how done he was. Purple Haze has a drill-sergeant stubbornness to it. Eyes front and centre. Delivered.
Hear My Train A-Comin’ and Spanish Castle Magic was the material Jimi was more invested in – these were the new blueprints, enough of a song structure but open for jamming. Never the same way twice. He saw songs as markers not monuments. He told us he would stand up to mountains and chop them right down with the edge of his hand.
The second set is more wayward but there are some cool things still – the booze, the acid, the weed, the whatever…it’s all starting to get in the way now. A sloppy Dolly Dagger kicks the second disc off and the sound isn’t quite as good, the vocal possibly waving in and out as much because Jimi Hendrix in his human form was by then waving in and out.
But the blues are well served with Red House slowing things down and the Woodstock-highlight, Jam Back At The House is the reminder of the new direction Jimi was seeking.
He wanted to be in a band with Miles Davis or Curtis Mayfield, we’ve read. He wanted to be one of a handful of guitarists on stage and wanted drums, percussion, maybe even horns. He had ideas we’d later hear realised through Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and of course Prince, Vernon Reid and a few others but for now he was put on the earth to power a trio and tear at those strings. To sing the best mumbo jumbo of the era and to occasionally play those amazing pop singles that were hiding deep inside big, bad blues-rock jams. Like Stone Free. That song feels like the fitting closer to this concert document. He’s almost fighting against the song but at the same time it feels like its most urgent version. That was the result of this towering musical force – caught between freedom and the man with the money and the contract. Not long for this earth but his music endures. Still thrills. Feels like it was formed in the first fires.
There are far too many posthumous Jimi Hendrix releases. In a sea of so many extra live albums and studio outtakes Live in Maui is actually a great buzz. It’s yet another reminder, 50 years on from his passing, that we were blessed to even have him come and visit us on this earth for as long as he did.
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