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, as Hendrix had just released his monumental Electric Ladyland album, he began actively pursuing opportunities to jam with other musicians. He became more open to 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 music and 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, would open up inspiring new possibilities within the music. These shows illustrate this new improvisational approach that Hendrix was beginning to explore. Without exception, these Winterland sets offer fascinating glimpses into Hendrix's thought process and the new approach he was taking to his music in 1968.
The first show of this outstanding run at Winterland is less experimental than the forthcoming five shows, as the band was likely settling in and getting comfortable for the rest of this legendary stand.
Nonetheless, we have a sizzling performance that likely blew many a mind right away, as Hendrix immediately launches into heavy psychedelic territory with the double whammy of "Are You Experienced?" followed by "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)." These two songs alone would have out-intensified any of Hendrix's contemporaries, but he's just warming up.
The nearly fifteen minute "Red House" that follows is absolutely mesmerizing, proving Hendrix's grasp of the blues was second to none. "Foxy Lady" is rather standard fare, although Hendrix greatly expands on the solo length with his usual flair. They next pay tribute to Bob Dylan, with a fiery rendition of "Like A Rolling Stone," which also expands on the version familiar to most fans from his legendary Monterey Pop Festival performance the previous summer.
This early show closes with a new experimental piece, which at the time was referred to as "This Is America." This wail of guitar pyrotechnics and controlled feedback was the precursor to Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner," remembered so well from Woodstock the following year. Here, it is less focused, but still sonically explores the chaos of war and the unrest occurring in the United States with haunting accuracy. Much like the version of "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, this sonic assault eventually transitions into "Purple Haze" to end the set. And that's just the early show on the first night.
-Written by Alan Bershaw