Review – The Jimi Hendrix Experience – The Royal Albert Hall – October 21st, 2019
This is historic.
50 years in the making.
The Jimi Hendrix experience at The Royal Albert Hall.
In celluloid. Rock’s Greatest Lost Treasure….
By Alistair Roylance
LONDON (The Royal Albert Hall) (Perfect Music Today) 10/23/19–A recording of the last UK appearance of original line-up of The Jimi Hendrix Experience – captured on multiple 16mm film cameras – has remained unseen since it was filmed. The feature length documentary has now been shown – for one night only – at the very same venue it was recorded back in 1969.
The film starts with an introduction to Jimi’s early life – highlighting his early career as a guitarist, his time in the army, his desire to travel and to be in London – before launching into the first segment of live footage – Stone Free – merely a taster of what’s to come.
On 24th February 1969, The Jimi Hendrix Experience played the second of two dates at the Royal Albert Hall, London as part of their European tour. Jimi and the band were living in London at the time. The crew had been filming the tour but hadn’t managed to capture the essence of “The Experience” live – the first Royal Albert Hall night was plagued with sound and electrical problems. The second gig was taking place a week later and after a chance meeting with a commercial director, a new film crew was gathered to document the final night.
The film dances between candid off stage shorts and the live footage – showing Jimi, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding at the sound check, preparing for the gig back at their own flats and traveling to the venue before stepping out onto the iconic stage for what has to be one of the bands seminal performances.
The set list performed was an unusual departure from other gigs on the tour – the band played a number of blues tracks including Hear My Train A Coming, I Don’t Live Today and Red House alongside covers from Cream and Elmore James.
This is Jimi at the top of his game and the band beside him equally accomplished. The Royal Albert Hall was sold out on both nights and the footage reminds us that 1969 was a long time ago and perhaps a little more innocent and real – the bands and audience are happily lacking the pretentious glamour and the glitz we nowadays associate with fame. The audience is young and chic as you would expect in 1960s London, but the restraint shown by most is one of the real surprises of the film. They sit, uncomfortably restrained, unable to release themselves from unseen shackles of English decorum, desperate to be a part of the wild sounds reverberating around them. Helmet topped policemen in full uniform surround the stage looking immensely out of place – scowling at anyone who even shows a sign of getting up out of their seats. There are a small number prepared to break the mold – freaking out whilst sitting down – which draws a big laugh from the live audience on the other side of the screen.
It’s quite a surreal experience to be a few yards away from the empty stage where the band stood all those years ago – as they play floating above it on the huge screen which dominates the front of the Royal Albert Hall. Again, we are reminded that back then it was the music that spoke and not the stage show – the band performed on a small raised platform with a huge bank of Marshall amps behind them – with none of the production we see in today’s concerts.
As the band starts each track Jimi becomes fully absorbed – eyes closed, jaw twisting, feeling every note and letting it all go into the music. Its breath-taking to see his mastery of the guitar – there’s great closeups of his fretboard throughout the film and a focus on the playing – there’s an amazing drum solo which highlights Mitch Mitchell skill as a freeform drummer. Jimi provides us with all of the infamous guitar stunts – playing over his head, behind his back, with his teeth, under his leg, gyrating the guitar in his crotch and kneeling over his prostrate Fender like a famished lothario.
The remastered sound is detailed and accurate and sounds great over the PA in the hall even though some in the live audience want it to be louder and cry out “to turn it up”. The live crowd acts as though the gig is happening now – applauding and cheering at the end of each track – woops ring around the Royal Albert Hall when a familiar intro to a track starts and all of the favourites are included here – Lover man, Foxy Lady, Fire, Little Wing, Voodoo Child (Slight return) – and some of these versions are considered the best live renditions to have ever been recorded by the band.
The footage itself looks superb – its wonderfully warm and colourful – a quality of the original film which that is sadly lacking in today’s digital accuracy. There are some of the classic sixties’ live documentary concepts in here – huge zooms in and out – but thankfully these are kept to the minimum to focus on the performance – and that’s what this film does brilliantly – document the event as it was.
Jimi invites percussionist Rocki Dzidzornu to the stage and is joined by Traffic’s Dave Mason and Chris Wood and to perform a heavily jammed version of a Room Full of Mirrors before the band exit the stage with the cameras in hot pursuit. We see the hand-held camera follow the band off stage where a quick conversation follows as Jimi and the band decide to get back out for an encore – again an unusual feature of this particular gig.
There is a real intimacy in all of the off-stage moments which portrays what a warm, funny and genuine personality Jimi was – even at the height of his fame he appears grounded and – as if it needs reiterating – effortlessly cool.
The encore is electric. Purple Haze flows into Wild Thing and as Jimi rips into the distorted Star Spangled Banner and destroys his guitar and amps – the crowd can contain themselves no more – there is a mini stage invasion and a comedic policeman come roadie stand of with the audience as the gig come to a close.
The film follows the band to the dressing room and then on to the after-show party in Soho – where Jimi and his groupies while away the small hours. And then a suddenly as it started its all over and whilst the lights are slow to rise on the live audience at the Royal Albert Hall, the lights in everyone’s eyes are that little bit brighter for “The Experience”.
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