Summoning the Spirit of Jimi
Experience Hendrix 2014 Tour offered over a dozen musicians and lots of sizzling solos.
Last Friday night the parade of scorching guitar solos at the Experience Hendrix 2014 Tour sizzled and seemed to melt away the chilly spring. On my way to the Riverside Theater I drove through an unfortunate bout of April hail, but the show let out to clear skies. It was the second Milwaukee date for the Experience, which boasted a few new players including Bootsy Collins, Robbie Krieger of The Doors, and Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes.
Guitars were played with teeth, over and behind heads, and raised to the heavens in reverence for the one they call the G.O.A.T. The spirit of Hendrix took many different forms, his image painted by an array of artists, ranging considerably in style and age. I brought along a friend far more familiar with Hendrix who fed me context and facts throughout the night.
Aware of the messy struggle for control of Hendrix’s estate, my friend was a bit skeptical at the outset. His confidence grew when he learned that an original bassist, Billy Cox, who went to army school with Jimi and played with him for years, anchors the Experience. After Janie Hendrix, the adopted daughter of Jimi’s father and the CEO of Experience Hendrix, told the audience to prepare for a “tornado of music,” the Billy Cox band got things started.
Over a dozen musicians performed, making it hard to keep track of all their names. So we assigned them celebrity-look alike nicknames. Drummer Chris Layton, the only performer on-stage for the entire show, is the love child of Jason Sudeikis and New Wave-era Ricky Gervais. There was also a Lebron James (Eric Gales), Dave Grohl (Noah Hunt), Native American Jon Hamm (Mato Nanji), Prince (Doyle Bramhall II), John Stamos (Dweesil Zappa) and Lil’ Shaq (Henri Brown).
The one performer whose reputation and outlandish attire did not require a nickname was Bootsy Collins, who strutted in shiny silver pants, sported an afro with tinsel, played a star guitar with red strings and rocked the bassline for “Purple Haze.” But the outfit that got the most crowd response was definitely Robbie Krieger’s red Wisconsin Badgers cut-off t-shirt, which he pandered with pride. The white-haired, 68-year-old Krieger also got the first standing ovation after shredding a solo on “Manic Depression.”
“You know, me and Billy Cox are the only ones old enough to remember Jimi, so I guess that counts for something,” Krieger said before they played “Hey Joe.”
Denim-clad, middle-aged legend Eric Johnson was described by my friend as, “possibly the best guitarist in the house.” Johnson made a persuasive case by tapping into Jimi’s experimental side. At the beginning of “May This Be Love (Waterfall)” it was like Johnson’s and Gales’ guitars were flirting with each other and by the end of the song they were passionately making love.
Gales was the surprising standout of the show. While taking pictures with fans during intermission I overheard him identify as a fellow University of Minnesota graduate, shouting out the Gophers NIT Championship. (Hey, not all Big Ten teams can win their respective tournament.)
Kenny Wayne Shepherd may have been one of the younger guitarists but he won over the older crowd with ease. Shepherd was a showman during his Electric Ladyland-heavy set. Both versions of “Voodoo Child” (one slower and bluesier, the other faster and more rock ‘n’ roll) were blended and used as Shepherd’s canvas to dive into a complex, crowd-pleasing ten-minute solo.
While impressed by their skills and dedication to keeping the Hendrix spirit alive, my friend couldn’t help but put their performances in interstellar perspective.
“Their greatness only occupies one plane of existence on the planet that is Jimi,” he said. Spoken like a Hendrix fanatic.
Considering the cold walk to the theater and the warm vibes inside I had one constant thought throughout the show: summer festival season can’t come soon enough. The appearance of two dancing hotties during “Foxy Lady” hammered the idea home. Jimi’s light shined bright that night and kept the clouds away for the rest of the weekend, suggesting perhaps his continuing power, and reminding us that Milwaukee will soon (please!) get to groove under the sun.