Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jimi Hendrix plays Stockholm 1969

While doing a Google search on one subject (that I cannot even recall now) I was somehow directed to the ostensibly related subject or "rare colour" video of a concert the Jimi Hendrix Experience played in Stockholm in 1969. There is no indication of the date of the show but, given that the band consists of the Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, the original Experience, my guess is that it must have been in the earlier part of the year, certainly pre Woodstock.

The quality of the video is poor but does not seem to be a fan recording as there are various camera angles that suggest it might have been made for a television broadcast, even if it does look and sound rather amateurish. The colour is bleached out and psychedelic. This might simply be an indicator of the poor image to start with or subsequent deterioration over the period of 45 years. The sound quality is also dire and at times one or more of the instruments are almost inaudible and the bass and guitar are often distorted and baffled in non-creative ways.

The trio plays on a bare stage in front of the stacks of Marshalls that were the state of the art back then and something that struck me for the first time, after watching and listening to Hendrix tuning up a couple of times, and apologising to the audience for the time wasted, that the band must have been travelling light. Unless Hendrix would not allow anyone else to tune his guitar, there cannot have been a guitar tech to do it for him, as one would have expected in the case of a rock superstar and which is certainly currently the way things are done. The whole set up looks primitive even for 1969 but I guess things were simpler and done on a smaller scale then. And that might explain the dire sound too. The audio must have been recorded from a source other than the soundboard, if there were one, and perhaps with ambient microphones or the camera microphone. Perhaps the audience had a better experience of the sound, for, if the video sound is what they also heard, being at this concert must have been challenging if you came to listen and not simply to trip and groove.

The three guys on stage are dressed in best hippie peacock finery, with Noel Redding sporting a large black floppy hat. Especially Redding looks a bit like mutton dressed as lamb. Hendrix wears a spectacular outfit, probably sewn by one of his many groupies. His hair is a tad untidy en stringy, not the neat, more natural Afro seen at Woodstock.

Although the gig is in Stockholm a guy with a very plummy pukka English accent announces the band and refers to "electric church music,' which sounds more like the later versions of the ensemble who played with Hendrix on Electric Ladyland and at Woodstock, than the bare bones Jimi Hendrix Experience trio on stage here. Hendrix opens the proceedings by apologising for the set to come and explains that the band had not had much time to rehearse and this is why they would be playing old tunes and basically jamming. Unfortunately the band does seem to be a tad lost at times and though Redding is game and has the history of playing these songs, there is little sense of tightness and cohesion. Hendrix does mess about a bit and seems to play perfunctorily at best, and burdened by the bad sound, until he gets to "Red House" and digs a bit deeper for the blues. An instrumental version of "Sunshine of Your Love" closes the show. It's not very entertaining except as a novelty tribute to Cream.

Perhaps the fans would have gladly paid good money just to hear Jimi tune up but for me this concert seems to have been no more than a money gig by a band that was no longer truly a band and was still playing together purely because they happened to know the material.

In the history of Hendrix's music career it is the conventional wisdom that he had become bored with and felt constrained by the basic trio format of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and wanted to expand his musical horizons and stretch his capabilities not only in making freak rock but in song writing and recording and that the Experience hardly ever played together anymore unless there were financial reasons to do so and the band was generally criminally under-rehearsed. This video clip is probably best evidence of this tendency and the resultant jamming nature of gigs where the band stick to tried and tested material, which hardly tells us where Hendrix was at in his musical mind at that time. One can almost see and hear that this is the type of gig where you hit, git and split, cruising through some hits and standards without breaking too much of a sweat. The guitar playing also showcases the defects in the Hendrix mannerism, which is why I would ultimately prefer Eric Clapton over Hendrix as Sixties guitar god. Here Hendrix does Hendrix-by-numbers, the schtick, minus the setting on fire or playing with his teeth that made him a concert draw in the first place. The man can sure play with great facility and knows how to extract unearthly noises from his instrument but in the end it quickly becomes tedious, unless perhaps one was on good, strong drugs.

Jimi Hendrix's virtuosity on the guitar and his ability to produce sounds and effects from it that no-one else could, is often cited as the mark of his genius but for me this ability, much like Stevie Ray Vaughan's facility with playing lengthy solos, is the element that detracts from the quality of the music. When Jimi was disciplined and played to structure, as was the case for his studio tracks, he is brilliant and incisive. The long, formless jams dissipate that focus and energy and though one can admire the facility and apparent ease with which he can improvise and produce weird noises, these live performances do become tedious after a while.

This Stockholm gig would have been a rare experience for the fans attending it and a fond memory given that Hendrix was dead within 2 years and would never be heard on stage again. Other than that, and the historic curiosity value of the video clip, there is no particular reason to treasure this performance. Hendrix does what he does, perfunctorily, takes his money and goes home. Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell do what they do, get paid and basically drop out of Hendrix's musical life for a while, though Mitchell eventually returned, as Buddy Miles was not the best of drummers for Hendrix, even when Jimi was trying to be more funky than psychedelic.

I've heard various Hendrix live performances, and once owned The Hendrix Concerts album. These tracks were handpicked to showcase the best of Hendrix on stage and cumulatively present a somewhat different picture than the warts and all complete Stockholm gig. This probably makes the Stockholm clip a more valuable historical commodity but it tends to diminish, especially so many years later and in the comfort of my own home where I am neither drunk or stoned, the perceived genius aspect of the musician who ends up playing mediocre jamming variations on his hits rather than delivering exemplary examples of his vaunted inventive brilliance.

No comments: