"What we're into is history," Jimi Hendrix says during an interview tacked onto the last of the four discs that make up the extraordinary new concert boxed set Winterland. "This is our own personal history."
Hendrix, who died in 1970, wasn't speaking specifically about the music he cranked out with The Jimi Hendrix Experience during three October nights in 1968 at the legendary San Francisco music haunt that shares its name with Winterland (for the record, the interview was conducted in Boston). But his remarks certainly hold true today. On Winterland, these performances sound historic in the finest possible sense.
At the time, The Experience — the guitarist's classic trio with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell — was celebrating its second anniversary with what would turn out to be its swan-song album, Electric Ladyland, only two weeks away from release. In Winterland's three primary discs, which chronicle each night of the Experience's engagement at the club (supplemental tracks from the shows, and the Boston interview, make up the fourth disc), the thrust of the guitarist's playing noticeably shifts.
Compared to the primal outbursts that distinguish the Experience's well-documented performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, Hendrix beefs up blues sensibilities throughout Winterland and reins in his more extroverted impulses. That's not to say he doesn't go wild, though.
The second disc's version of Are You Experienced begins in almost lumbering fashion, suggesting that the warhorse tune might have finally worn down its performance edge. Then the trio simply clobbers the melody, ripping it apart until Hendrix takes command with a solo full of ragged but rhythmically keen instinct.
Curiously, the Experience sticks to a predominantly familiar set list through Winterland. Only one tune from Electric Ladyland — the soon-to-be popular Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) — is offered. But Hendrix allows then-Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady to sub briefly for Redding (as he did on Electric Ladyland). The result is a scorched reading of Killing Floor in which, oddly enough, the song's inherent blues inspirations are rewired into a propulsive rhythm that is pure guitar-rock magic.
Out this week alongside Winterland is a re-release of perhaps the guitarist's greatest live album, Hendrix in the West.
Originally a jumbled posthumous release from January 1972 (one-third of it wasn't recorded in the West at all, but at London's Royal Albert Hall and the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival), the album covers performances over 18 months that saw the dissolve of the Experience and the birth of a potent new group with bassist Billy Cox. But the playing, which is almost jazz-like at times on the later tunes, is sublime.
Of particular interest: an unearthed 10-minute version of Spanish Castle Magic from May 1969 that captures both the dynamic precision and the electric exuberance of the Experience in its heyday.