It’s been around 35 years since Jimi Hendrix died, and still, today, nearly every list of greatest rock guitarists puts him at the top.
Some guitarists have since closed in on his skillful chops, others on his recklessness. But none has combined the two, and then there’s the unbearable energy of Hendrix.
A barrage of great guitarists hit the Palace Thursday night for a packed-tight audience for the second night of a 25-show Experience Hendrix Tour. Players like Buddy Guy, Johnny Lang, Eric Johnson and Kenny Wayne Shepherd tore into their tunes to capture their little piece of Hendrix. Originals Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox came on and off the stage all night but did little.
Eric Gales opened the show with “Purple Haze” and then “Foxy Lady.” Immediately, one wondered how they could have used these two giant songs so early. But halfway through the show, it became apparent how deep and rich the Hendrix songbook was.
Gales is a loose, natural player who found ways to get outside the song and capture Hendrix’ need to wander.
Gales left the stage for Mato Nanji to play and sing a riveting “Little Wing,” his soaring solo bringing the place to their feet. Eric Johnson followed, with Mitch Mitchell, who together played the “Happy Birthday” song to Billy Cox.
There was no gap between acts; the players just kept coming non-stop.
“We wouldn’t be here playing guitar if not for these guys,” Johnson said of Cox and Mitchell, launching into “Bold as Love,” in which he overplayed the solo. He followed with a staid and polished “Are You Experienced.” If Gales opened wide his Hendrix tunes, Johnson boxed them in.
The wildly passionate Johnny Lang and Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford replaced Johnson, burning into “Fire,” Lang singing and playing for his life. Even Hendrix would have called the guy crazy during this song. While Hendrix might have been the inspiration for metal, it was clear how distant the metal style of Whitford sounded from the Hendrix feel. The two scored high again with “Wind Cries Mary” and then “Spanish Castle Magic,” bringing the house to their feet.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd took the stage next, staying for a while and playing his heart out with “I Don’t Live Today” and “Voodoo Chile” like a man possessed.
Hubert Sumlin, introduced as a major influence on Hendrix, took a great, old-blues solo for the standard “I Can’t Quit You.”
Then came Buddy Guy. While a blues thread ran through everyone on the stage all night, Buddy Guy was the purest and most loyal to the genre. He left the Hendrix songbook for some oldies.
Albert Camus once said something like, “Love burns or love lasts, but it doesn’t do both.” Maybe so. And Hendrix sure did burn his fuse fast and furiously. Thursday night was an honorable and successful effort to respect the light that he’s left.