While the lucrative business of posthumous Jimi Hendrix releases will no doubt continue for some time, the new Winterland box set does stand as a fitting tribute to quite possibly the greatest guitarist of his generation. Spread across four discs, this is an extensive look at the 6 performances that Jimi and his band undertook at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom in October 1968. Although the best of this material was released in 1987 as a single disc compilation, a more complete and interesting picture is presented with this new set.
With three shows presented here and a fourth disc of other tracks from the remaining performances, it's hard not to get lost in the amount of material on offer. However an additional 20-minute interview recorded a month later does provide some context for the experience. The most noticeable thing on first inspection is the excellent remastering of the soundboard recordings. Small details like the flute on 'Are You Experienced?' don't get lost in the mix; neither do the nuances of Noel Redding's bass. Hendrix's guitar is front and centre at all times, but it doesn't drown out what's going on around him, it's presumably the most accurate reflection of what the audience would have heard to date.
The other noticeable feature is the lack of any rock star persona from Jimi; he's unassuming and at times almost apologetic when addressing the crowd about apparent technical difficulties. At times he's so lost in the moment that he even makes mistakes ("We're going to go ahead and do a song from the first LP called 'Let Me Stand Next To Your Old Lady', I mean 'Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire'".), but he's still a commanding presence once the extending jamming begins.
Highlights include two scorching versions of Cream's 'Sunshine Of Your Love' and two cuts of a laid back cover of Bob Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone' that jams itself through a to a number of electrifying guitar crescendo's. Meanwhile the pre Electric Ladyland version of 'Voodoo Child (Slight Return)' allows Jimi to experiment with different riffs and licks, while still maintaining the same structure as its shorter studio incarnation. It's also worth listening to the interview included here, in which Hendrix remains somewhat guarded, but he is willing to talk about his influences and why he hasn't copied them, opting instead to create something unique.
While this version of Winterland may seem somewhat inaccessible to a casual listener, with its marathon of multiple takes and extended jams, it more than earns its place as a great live album. It's an honest and insightful portrait of Hendrix, Redding, and Mitchell at the height of their fame. While repeated listens may see the target audience of established fans creating their own shortened setlists of preferred cuts, there's plenty of excellent performances to explore here for everybody.
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