State Theatre, Minneapolis
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
To say last night's touring Jimi Hendrix tribute performance, Experience Hendrix, was a non-stop barrage of propulsively sexy, heavy-duty guitar would be an understatement. Almost as powerful as the man himself, an endless succession of guitar players lit the glorious State Theatre stage up like the finest of Woodstock acid trips. For nearly three hours, Jimi's old Army buddy and eventual bassist in the Band of Gypsys, Billy Cox led an army of All-Star guitarists who collectively managed to scorch their way through the bible of Hendrix quintessentials.
"Let's create an electric church up in here!" preached sister Janie Hendrix as she introduced the band and unveiled the recently published Jimi Hendrix U.S. postage stamp.
Looking the part as much as they perfectly sounded it, Dani Robison initiated the guitar duties of the evening with fellow Hendrix connoisseur Stan Skibby. Trading licks through "Stone Free," they dialed in their sound, both managing ferocious leads that set the tone for a wild night of guitar solos.
Next up for Band of Gypsys joint, "Message to Love," Black Crowes' Rich Robinson took the lead guitar seat. With his own tasteful, downplayed approach he maintained his own sound as photos of Jimi and Billy Cox together through their friendship and years performing together flickered on the backdrop. Placed up top the virtual city of guitar amplifiers on stage, the multi-colored screen featured hundreds of photos and video of Jimi Hendrix in all his glory.
"Did someone just shout out to me 'The Dweez'!?" he laughed before ripping through "Freedom" with the band. With his typically oddball, lyrical style, Dweezil Zappa triumphantly traded and harmonized with Eric Gales who took over vocals, bringing a touch of bluesy soul to the set. Brought back to the tour as Brad Whitford and Taj Mahal had to cancel at the last minute, Gales stole the show for the first half of the night.
Bringing their own harmonies to the mix, Los Lobos' Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo carried the torch on "Can You See Me." Hidalgo's stick-pin-like attack contrasted wonderfully with Rosas' lead guitar as they mellowed things out a titch on a touching version of "Little Wing." Layton hit every Mitch Mitchell drumfill perfectly without stepping on Rosas' impassioned vocals. Maintaining the feel of the original with a nod to Stevie Ray Vaughan's own version of the song the moment was not lost on the audience who were savoring every spiritual aspect of the music.
Starting the second half of the night solo with a twelve-string acoustic guitar, Doyle Bramhall II set things off on a mellow tip with "Hear My Train A-Comin'." Bringing the band back out, Bramhall introduced "Angel" as a song he and Layton often performed in Arc Angels with Charlie Sexton. With leads that soared higher than his afro, Bramhall's quirky tone provided an original sound to the rhythm section while still paying homage to Hendrix as baby photos of Jimi glowed from the screen.
The next heavy hitter, Johnny Lang took over the proceedings with Dweezil and Nanji for "All Along the Watchtower." Lang, on acoustic guitar was all grins but quickly changed and seemed possessed as grabbed his Telly and completely destroyed the solo on "Fire." For an extended space-out jam, Lang continued his assault, scat singing a solo and traded leads in an enraptured threesome with Zappa and Robinson, who had modestly returned for "Spanish Castle Magic" for the evening's climax.
For an encore, Billy Cox returned with Skibby and Nanji for "Them Changes" which served as much a tribute to Buddy Miles as to Hendrix. As Hidalgo and Rosas came back out for "Hey Joe" and "Red House," with so many guitars onstage, the voltage went up shooting the exhausted audience to their feet. Truly moved by the spirit of the music the energy in the room couldn't be denied. The celebration of Jimi left everyone with bright smiles as the entire cavalcade of musicians from the evening took a triumphant bow.
Critic's Bias: A sucker for a million guitar notes at once.
The Crowd: Not nearly as many stoned-out hippies playing air guitar as you'd expect.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Who was that guy with the Afro? He looked and sounded just like Jimi!"
Random Notebook Dump: Jimi Lives!!