This run of Jimi Hendrix concerts at Winterland, with Dino Valenti and then Buddy Miles Express opening, produced some of the most interesting Hendrix sets ever recorded. In mid-1968, just as he was releasing his monumental Electric Ladyland LP, Hendrix began actively and fervently pursuing opportunities to jam with other musicians. He became more conscious of his improvisational abilities than at any other time in his too brief career. These shows capture Hendrix at his most exploratory, expanding the boundaries of his own playing and open to adding other musicians to the mix, in this case with no rehearsals. This new approach would eventually spell the demise of the Jimi Hendrix Experience as a band, but for a brief time opened up inspiring new possibilities for their the music. These Winterland sets give a compelling illustration of this new increasingly improvisational approach that Hendrix was beginning to bring to his music at the time; at the very least, they offer a fascinating glimpse into Hendrix's thought process and the new expressive directions he was beginning to explore in 1968.
The second night's late show is a more experimental affair than the early one. The group again begins with "Tax Free," the aggressive new piece Hendrix had begun developing at the time. This version is even more monumental than the previous night's, clocking in at over twenty minutes.
Next up is a fantastic version of "Spanish Castle Magic." The tune would surface again the following night, but this version is definitely the better of the two, featuring blistering guitar work from Hendrix and phenomenal drumming from Mitchell, who sustains the groove to its lengthiest on the run.
At this point, Electric Flag organist Herbie Rich joins the band onstage, and they take off on an extended journey through Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." Once again, the added presence of Rich sends Hendrix into areas previously unraveled, and makes for a breathtaking trip. "Lover Man" gets another try, but is still rather tame and undeveloped at this point. The rest of the set, with the exception of the last song, "Purple Haze," continues to feature Rich on organ, inspiring Hendrix to play in a more thoughtful manner than usual on "Hey Joe," "Fire" and "Foxy Lady."
Possibly because they were running late, this set ends with "Purple Haze," sans the "America/Star Spangled Banner" prelude. Despite the omission, on a night like this, the audience must have still been thanking their lucky stars.
-Written by Alan Bershaw