[9 January 2005]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Less than a month before his untimely death in September 1970, Jimi Hendrix took the stage at the Isle of Wight and dispelled any questions as to his greatness as a performer and musician. Backed by former Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell and Band of Gypsy’s bassist Billy Cox, Hendrix condensed his brilliant three year career into a single performance, incorporating everything into his set: psychedelic hits, experimental compositions, extended blues jams, and of course, some flashy signature moves. If it was not his finest moment, it certainly ranked high on the list, and served as an ironically appropriate farewell. Although the concert had been previously released on CD and DVD, the new package combines both, providing visual and aural proof as to the quality (and significance) of Hendrix’s last major stage appearance.
Aside from the actual performance, there are several noteworthy points to mention. First, the multiple camera angles used by producer/director Murray Lerner and his team bring the concert to vibrant life. Unlike much of the haphazard filming from Lerner’s project on the Who’s Isle of Wight performance, the Hendrix footage creates an intimacy between artist and audience; through magnificent close-ups and pan shots, viewers are taken on stage with Lerner’s crew, sharing the moment as no one else in attendance could. We see everything, from Hendrix engaging in good natured banter with festival goers to his frustrated facial expressions as equipment malfunctions plague the set. It is a rare treat to be this close to an icon, particularly as he gives such an impassioned performance.
Second, Lerner’s cameramen had the foresight, or good fortune, to be at the right places at the right times to capture some exquisite behind-the-scenes shots: As Hendrix makes his way to the stage area surrounded by a throng of reporters, he quips, “I got a gig waiting for me in the laundromat”; standing behind his amps while awaiting his introduction, Hendrix asks his road manager, “How does ‘God Save the Queen’ go?” then surprisingly requests a guitar pick; shortly thereafter, a conversation ensues as to the recording of the Wight show, with Hendrix and his road manager referencing the taping of a previous gig at Royal Albert Hall. These snippets may not seem like much, but they add an extraordinary historical context to the film, in addition to showing the pre-performance moments of an artist of Hendrix’s magnitude.
Third, there exists a noticeable inconsistency between the twin CDs and DVD. While the former boasts Hendrix’s entire set, the latter is missing three songs: “Midnight Lightning”, “Hey Baby (New Rising Son)”, and “Hey Joe”. Although the film’s editing is sharp enough to mask these omissions, it seems odd that, without explanation or clarification, the filmed portion of the concert remains incomplete.
Lastly, watching and listening to Blue Wild Angel will leave one questioning the rumored accounts of Hendrix’s poor physical and emotional condition prior to the show. Beyond his sharp singing and playing, Hendrix appears to be in extremely good humor, on stage and off. If he had been suffering from exhaustion or something similar, he hid it well, as evidenced by his lengthy workout version of “Spanish Castle Magic” and energized renditions of “Machine Gun” and “Foxey Lady”.
Despite the quality of the new offering, there is a significant problem to the CD/DVD set which merits discussion: It offers nothing of added value over its predecessors. This is unfortunate as it takes away from the historical importance of the performance, as it appears to be another excuse to degrade the Hendrix legacy through shameless consumerism. The Hendrix Estate has done a masterful job in re-issuing audio and video footage over the past several years, adding numerous high grade CDs and DVDs to the existing catalogue. Yet, with a lack of bonus material, or a commemorative occasion associated with the Isle of Wight concert, there is no justification for the new release, aside from mere convenience and additional revenue. Hopefully, Experience Hendrix L.L.C. will use a bit better judgment in the marketing of future projects.
Corporate sales motivations aside, the Blue Wild Angel CD/DVD set provides Hendrix aficionados an opportunity to see and hear their hero in all his feedback-drenched glory. It was a memorable performance all those years ago, one that we can revisit again and again right on stage with Jimi Hendirx.