Compelling live show of The Experience in their prime
Originally included as part of the 1990 Lifelines box set, an intriguing if ultimately frustrating collection of interviews and previously unreleased live/studio recordings first broadcast on radio in 1989 (many tracks either fade out too quickly or are marred by voice overs), The L.A. Forum Concert remains the most complete, official release yet of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s performance on 26th April, 1969 to date.
The show was professionally recorded by Wally Heider, and put aside for a potential live album Jimi’s manager Mike Jeffrey was considering. Despite some early mixes prepared by Eddie Kramer, the project was abandoned and the tapes shelved for future posterity.
In the ensuing months, Jimi’s music continued to rapidly evolve, meaning that any possibility of a definitive live document appeared increasingly unlikely. However if some of what was recorded that night had of found its way into the hands of Jimi’s millions of fans, one wonders what they might have thought, considering that Hendrix was no longer interested in replicating his usual stage act, one made famous thanks to his blistering set at The Monterey Pop Festival some two years earlier.
No, Hendrix was maturing, and his show, as superbly captured here, is testament to his growth as a musician and composer.
After a brief introduction, Hendrix, Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums), kick things off with a heavily extended (and largely improvised) rendition of Hansson & Carlsson’s “Tax Free,” something which few in the audience would have expected (no YouTube in those days).
Unlike the studio version first heard on 1972’s War Heroes LP, here Hendrix goes on to explore just about every psychedelic nook and cranny he can find, going for bust in the process. Remember, Woodstock was but a mere four months away, and while Hendrix had improvised on stage before, “Tax Free” clearly offered him the opportunity to stretch out with the kind of instrumental freedom he was no doubt already striving for.
“Red House” is another exploratory performance, and one which has oft been described as one of his best. Here he takes what is essentially a 12 bar blues, and transforms it into an exciting, instrumental extravaganza. At this point Hendrix had already been jamming with the likes of John McLaughlin and Dave Holland, two musicians who would play an important role in the proto-jazz-fusion movement that was about to occur later that same year, so it should therefore come as no surprise that Hendrix was keen on pushing a few boundaries of his own.
A powerful, Flamenco-inspired “Spanish Castle Magic” hints at some of the improvised majesty Jimi would later display at the Woodstock Festival in August, while “Star Spangled Banner” and “Purple Haze” manage to whip the audience into a frenzy (based on the response of the crowd as preserved on the original multi-track tapes). In spite of all the tension between himself and Redding (the bassist would quit the group at the end of their American tour in June), the band were still capable of putting on an impressive show.
“I Don’t Live Today” is given a muscular workout, followed by a raucous “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” (Hendrix included a version of Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” in between just for good measure), played while the crowd attempted to storm the front of the stage, forcing police to form a barricade between the musicians and audience members.
Live At The L.A. Forum, like many similar releases, provides the modern day listener with a unique opportunity to at least hear, and hopefully get close to some idea as to the reasons why Hendrix was so important to so many people. In the late ‘60s, a rock concert was more than just about the music; it was an event, and an important one at that.