March 14, 2012
Hard Rock Live, Hollywood
The Experience Hendrix tribute concert last night was a mixed bag. Much of the show was flat and unimaginative, but there were moments that touched on the spirit of Hendrix, rather than just his songbook. The cast of players was ever-shifting, with most of the 16 or so musicians not staying on stage for more than a few songs, and most playing as part of more than one configuration.
The player of the evening was by far Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who tore the place to pieces with his inspired, masterful blues guitar. He played a handful of tunes toward the end of the show, all with extended jams, along with a really groovy bass player, a decent singer, and the drummer who was onstage all night, who did an OK job but couldn't really hang with KWS. Then again, no one else on the roster could either.
A Hendrix video scrapbook played on the screen behind the stage all night, beginning a half hour or so before the musicians came out, while a stage full of amps indicated shredding was on the way. The first person to come out was Janie Hendrix, sister of Jimi and president and CEO of Experience Hendrix LLC, who welcomed the audience and introduced Billy Cox, Jimi's bass-playing buddy from Band of Gypsys.
Cox opened the show flanked by Mato Nati of Indiginous and Chris Layton of Stevie Ray Vaughan's band and soon brought out Dweezil Zappa and Robby Krieger. Though it was cool to see those guys onstage together, the musical result was very underwhelming. Of all the musicians who played last night, none was more disappointing than Krieger. It really seemed like he was just going through the motions, and it seemed like that might have held Zappa back from really getting into it also.
Eric Johnson lead the next ensemble. He played OK, but it was as if he were playing Hendrix by reading sheet music, which is completely missing the point. There was no feel or daring to this guy's playing. Ironically, he closed his set with "Are You Experienced?" when clearly, he had not been. Someone get that guy some acid.
After Johnson's pale set, some life entered the room in the form of Bootsy Collins and Robert Randolph. Seeing those two come out together was energizing and reason to hope. They went on to play a few tunes, the highlight being a funky rendition of "Foxy Lady."
Accompanying them onstage were the Slide Brothers, which was a questionable call. Having two additional slides on stage with the extremely loud and lively Robert Randolph was a bit much at times. It crowded the jam and kept anything really interesting from developing between Randolph and Collins. Truthfully, Collins could barely be heard. But at least he could be seen. He could've been seen if all the lights went out with his über-funky clothes and alien energy.
The acts that filled out the night included Jonny Lang, whose guitar playing was strong but whose vocals were over-the-top; Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, who didn't do much until he was provoked by Lang during a nice rendition of "Spanish Castle Magic"; and David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lonely Boys, who played a good set midway through the show.
A strong point of the show was the order that the players came out. The show built in intensity and quality the whole way through. The downside was that when Shepherd came out and killed it at the end, it was apparent that much of what preceded him was not as strong as it could have been.
The crowd: Included 16-year-old girls in tie dye, a dude in his 70s up and grooving, and much in between.
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Random detail: The night ended with Cox announcing: "Whenever you wear a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, people know you're somebody special. Go out and get yourself a T-shirt -- the merch booth is open."
Second opinion: One young man in the crowd had this to say after the show: "One thing about that show is that if I would have been on psychedelics, it would have made it worse. That show would've failed the Acid Test. So how's that for Experience Hendrix?"