Experience Hendrix Tour
Looking at the middle-aged to elderly crowd, which formed a line down Wilshire Blvd. last night, one might have guessed that a charity bingo gala had summoned people to LA’s Wiltern Theatre. However, upon closer inspection, one would have seen the plethora of hard rock and heavy metal band t-shirts worn by the crowd’s constituents. These folks were, indeed, in line for a church-type event; for they were about to experience the spirit of the “Electric Church.” This title was used by Jimi Hendrix’s sister Janie, President & CEO of Experience Hendrix, L.L.C., to describe the 20-something year old tradition of celebrating her brother’s music. It was an apt title.
This was the tenth show of the Electric Church’s 28-stop 2017 Experience Hendrix tour of the US. This year’s incredible roster of musicians celebrating the music of Jimi Hendrix featured legendary bluesman (and Hendrix inspiration) Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society, Ozzy Osbourne), Billy Cox (bassist for several of Jimi Hendrix’s bands), Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Jonny Lang.
The two and a half hour showcase consisted of about 60 percent Hendrix originals and 40 percent covers of which Hendrix had recorded original versions and performed in concert. While the styles of some of the musicians spanned the blues spectrum (to the extent of some straight-up metal shredding in Zakk Wylde’s case), every guitar solo throughout the evening commanded respect. After a brief welcome and introduction by Janie Hendrix, guitarist Dweezil Zappa, drummer Chris Layton (Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble), and bassist Cox started the show off with “Freedom.” Mato Nanji (Indigenous) joined the musicians for “Stone Free,” and the intensity of having two great guitarists jamming together set a high bar for whatever was to come next — Nanji’s soloing was of the caliber that leaves one shaking one’s head and saying, “Damn!”
Then Chuck Campbell (one of the two Slide Brothers [Calvin Cooke later joined the party]) increased the show’s intensity with a maddening slide guitar performance of “Foxy Lady.” Ana Popovic stepped up next and proved that men do not have a monopoly on fine blues guitar playing, as she tore into “House Burning Down.” While the guitar playing was fantastic all-around, vocalists Henri Brown and Noah Hunt proved that the blues was in the pipes, as well, as they alternately sang several songs throughout the evening.
Most of the music was performed to a digital backdrop of morphing and dripping color patterns, evocative of tie-dye shirt designs. This was perfect for a rip-roaring rock and blues concert. However, in the middle of the second set, the mood became bittersweet. Jonny Lang was holding court with “Wind Cries Mary,” and the backdrop showcased a slideshow of Hendrix family photos, starting with baby pictures of Jimi and winding through his early performing years, with digitized scans of his letters to his father, which told of the new and exciting bands with which he was playing. This aspect highlighted the fact that the tradition of showcasing the late performer’s work was the product of the love Hendrix’s family has for their fallen member — especially Jimi’s late father, James “Al” Hendrix, who formed the Experience Hendrix, L.L.C. in 1995.
Both Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd did incredible jobs in the latter half of the concert, but the penultimate show-stealing moments belonged to Zakk Wylde and Buddy Guy. Wylde entered with “Manic Depression,” but it was during his performance of “Little Wing” that jaws dropped open and this reviewer was heard to say, “Fuuuuuuuuuudge” [only I didn’t say “fudge”]. Stage hands gathered by the half dozen to raise Wylde’s patch cord above their heads as the manic guitar player walked off the stage left steps and into the house, never missing a beat with his solo. He then returned to the front of the theater, and the stage hands once again hoisted the cable as he walked into the other half of the audience, this time placing his guitar behind his head, where he kept it as he continued to perform an intense solo that must have lasted 8 minutes and concluded onstage (where he walked while still shredding behind his head) with the ‘ol teeth picking routine.
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Finally, legendary Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy stepped onstage. Guy was up there for the final handful of songs, but it was really with “Louisiana Blues” (originally a Muddy Waters tune), that he schooled the house on how a master of the form plays. In between his singing and his playing, he demonstrated that one doesn’t have to shred to kill it, as even the most understated little phrases of his playing spoke to the human spirit. Guy alternately spoke / sang to the house and shushed them throughout the number, and the house responded appropriately.
Some moments of the Experience Hendrix show were evocative of a good ‘ol jamboree (especially when Janie Hendrix joined in with her voice and a tambourine) with excellent players, and some moments demonstrated the mind-blowing, transcendental places that blues-based music can take a person. As this was done in the name and spirit of one of the greatest rock guitarists in history, it truly fit Janie Hendrix’s epithet of “Electric Church.” If this revivalist congregation rolls through town again, it is highly recommended that fans of rock and blues music attend and bear witness of the glory.