Live at Monterey

hendrix.jpgTitle: Live at Monterey
Artist: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Format: DVD, NTSC, Dolby Digital; 116 min.
Label: Experience Hendrix
Catalog No.: 602517455177
Date: 2007

The first album I ever bought was Sound Track Recordings From The Film Jimi Hendrix, a documentary film released a few years after Jimi’s death in September of 1970. That album contained four cuts from Jimi’s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, and one of them, “Hey Joe,” featured some of the best guitar solos I’d ever heard. When my seventh grade teacher asked the class to write essays on the topic of beauty, I wrote about that performance and those guitar solos in particular. It was many years before I finally had a chance to watch the footage of Jimi at Monterey, and I was eager to see him play those “Hey Joe” solos. I was flabbergasted to discover that he’d played the first solo with his teeth and the second behind his head! What is impressive is not that Jimi could do these showman tricks, but that he could play brilliantly while doing so. While watching Jimi perform, it’s easy to get lost in the visual spectacle he brought to the stage, but it’s important to not let your eyes completely dominate your ears.

Jimi Hendrix deserves to be your favorite guitar player—ever. He was a master musician, totally in the moment of his inspiration. Sure, he had good nights and bad nights, but when he was on, Jimi reached a state of artistic expression that is the rarely obtained goal of every serious musician. The legacy of Jimi Hendrix is one of inspiration. He showed how a combination of talent, love, dedication, and willingness to work hard can take a person from humble beginnings to the very top of the world.

After touring and recording behind legendary acts like the Isley Brothers, Little Richard and King Curtis, Jimi tired of being a sideman and, in 1966, began fronting a band of his own. It was Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, headquartered in New York’s Greenwich Village. There Jimi met Chas Chandler, bass player for the British Invasion band, the Animals. Chas was looking to quit performing and become an artist manager and record producer. With no real prospects in America, Jimi agreed to go to England with Chas and launch his career there.

In September 1966, Jimi landed in England and immediately formed The Experience with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass. In December, their first single, “Hey Joe,” was at #6 on the British Pop Charts. Subsequent singles and the first LP, Are You Experienced?, were also hits. Jimi quickly became rock royalty in England, but in America, he was a complete unknown. At Paul McCartney’s suggestion, The Jimi Hendrix Experience was invited to make their U.S. debut on June 18, 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival, introducing the new world to Jimi’s phenomenal talent.

Some say rock ‘n’ roll lost its innocence that day. Earlier that afternoon, there was an argument between Jimi and Pete Townshend, guitarist for The Who, another British band making its American debut. Neither band wanted to follow the other. Jimi knew Pete’s band would destroy its gear on stage, and Pete knew Jimi was the best guitar player around. So a coin was tossed, and Pete won. Jimi told Pete that if he had to go on after their destruction, he “was going to pull out all of the stops.” As expected, The Who climaxed their set with “My Generation,” as Pete smashed his guitar and Keith Moon destroyed his drum kit, leaving the stage a mess and the crowd agog at the shocking, violent spectacle.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience hit the stage running, opening with a fabulous, aggressive version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” followed by the opening cut from their British LP, “Foxey Lady.” Visually, this left-handed, pink feather boa-wearing brother seemed to have dropped in from some other planet. Sonically, Jimi threw down the gauntlet, unleashing a monster, never-before-heard guitar tone and harnessing feedback in ways no one knew were possible. In those few moments, Jimi single-handedly re-wrote the electric six-string book.

In a pleasant contrast, Jimi’s spoken asides and song introductions are charming and funny. By all accounts, he was a very intelligent, polite, shy individual whose true nature was at odds with the public’s wild perception of him. Also surprising to some is the fact that Jimi was a fan of Bob Dylan. For the third song of the set, Jimi softly dedicated Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” to “everybody here with any kinds of hearts and ears.” One often-overlooked thing about Jimi was how rhythmically strong his playing was. His “Rolling Stone” guitar intro shows this as well as his ability to play lead and rhythm guitar at the same time, all while delivering a vocal performance that is quite soulful and lovely. For a guy who hated his own voice, Jimi was a moving singer.

The set continued with their version of B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” and “Purple Haze” before climaxing with one of the most infamous performances in all rock ‘n’ roll history. Jimi played his “I’ll-make-you-forget-about-The-Who” trump card with a literally burning rendition of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing.” Amid a hail of feedback during his shockingly sexual amp attack/guitar hump, Jimi produced a can of lighter fluid, doused his guitar, and set it ablaze before smashing it to bits and throwing the pieces to the stunned crowd. This clip was used by filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker as the culmination of the original all-star Monterey Pop concert film, and formed the basis for the public’s perception of Jimi as a freaky rock ‘n’ roll wildman; an image that he quickly grew to resent.

Jimi’s Monterey performance has been previously released on DVD: first, as part of the 3-disc Complete Monterey Pop Festival—Criterion Collection (2002) and then as part of the single-disc Jimi Plays Monterey/Shake! Otis At Monterey—Criterion Collection (2006) that paired Jimi’s set with that of legendary soulman Otis Redding. In both of these releases, Jimi’s performance was represented by D. A. Pennebaker’s original film Jimi Plays Monterey.

For the new DVD release, the Experience Hendrix people motivate fans to buy this concert footage yet again by including:

• a new documentary about Jimi’s rise to fame and Monterey triumph, American Landing
• two never-before-released live performances (“Stone Free” and “Like a Rolling
Stone”) from February 25, 1967
• a photo gallery
• a short film, Music, Love & Flowers, featuring Monterey Pop co-founder, Lou Adler,
• a new 5.1 and 2.0 stereo soundtrack mixed by Eddie Kramer, Jimi’s primary
recording engineer.

The biggest difference between this DVD and the original Jimi Plays Monterey film is the first-time inclusion of the Experience’s performance of “Purple Haze,” a song left out of Pennebaker’s edit. While it’s good to finally see this performance, it is pretty obvious that quality footage of it is scarce. The editors cut to wide shots, audience shots, and close-ups that may or may not have actually occurred in this song to pad out the piece. Completists will be happy, but visually this is the weakest section of the DVD.

The other big difference is that this release features a slight video re-edit that uses different camera angles from those chosen by Pennebaker for his film, which are not improvements. Many of the new shots suffer from poorer focus, lighting, and color than those in the original Jimi Plays Monterey. Pennebaker’s edit is superior. What makes this version worthwhile is that the viewer can now choose to watch some of the different, unused camera angles in a special feature called A Second Look. By using the “angle” feature on your DVD remote, you can toggle between cameras to create your own edit in real time. Some may find this feature frustrating.

Overall, this is the very best available footage of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience. Their performance is outrageously good, and the DVD’s special features are nice, but hardly earth shattering. Anyone who is a student of popular music should own this concert, though a person who is also a fan of Otis Redding might be better served by the 2006 Criterion release.

Posted by Andy Hollinden

Editor’s note: Hollinden teaches various courses for the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, including The History of the Blues, The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Music of Frank Zappa, and The Music of Jimi Hendrix.