You come to a Hendrix tribute concert to hear guitar, and that’s what you got Friday night at the Palace.
More than a dozen guitarists stormed the stage to shred long hyped-up solos, filled with screeching, reckless climaxes. Yes, teeth were used to pluck the strings at one point. And through it all a thrumming bass that rattled the floor through your shoes. Guitar lovers couldn’t ask for more.
The show featured superb players who occasionally cut through the volume and mayhem to deliver some genuine, exciting Hendrix moments. The first one came when Eric Gales sang the near-ballad “May This Be Love.” He and Eric Johnson traded solos and eventually came together for an awesome, though well-rehearsed, ending.
A few songs later Gales returned for the privilege of singing “Purple Haze,” the first heavy hit of the night, followed by “Foxy Lady.”
Dweezil Zappa and Johnny Lang played “All Along the Watchtower,” with Zappa nailing the guitar parts, and tone, note for note. He did the same on the next tune, “The Wind Cries Mary.” Johnny Lang got wonderfully nutty for “Fire,” singing like one who found religion again, soloing with his body flailing around, spewing crazy notes — and just when you think he’s lost his place, he emerges at the right spot in the nick of time. The night moved up a notch with his intense performance, making way for Kenny Wayne Shepherd to bring it home.
Boy, can Shepherd play. Yes, he’s quite polished, clean, flashy, has all the tools, knows every trick in the book. But his brashness, his audacity, captured the best of Hendrix. During a long, mesmerizing “Voodoo Chile,” you had no choice but to stare at this guy strut and wail brilliantly, making you feel he was saying something important, bigger than a mere guitar solo. This is what Hendrix did.
Musicians came and went through the show without fanfare, including original Hendrix bassist Billy Cox, though Chris Layton stayed on drums all night. He laid it down well, but he didn’t inject the bright, busy fills that contributes to the Hendrix sound.
The sold-out crowd, mostly 45-plus and overwhelmingly male, was not particularly discerning, but they recognized a good solo when they got one. The overly prolific shredders were fun and full of energy, but after a while that wasn’t enough.
Belgrade-born Ana Popvich surprised the crowd with her fast hands, somewhat jazzy riffs, and slide-playing during “Can You See Me” (I’ll bet there are more female corporate CEOs than professional female guitarists).
“We wouldn’t be playing like this if it wasn’t for Hendrix,” said Popovic.
Doyle Bramhall played a solo acoustic version of “Hear My Train a Comin’,” capturing the lonesome feel of the song, one of Hendrix’s rare humble tunes. Of everything that happened Friday night, Hendrix might have liked this best.
After three-plus hours, the show could have stopped after Shepherd. But Buddy Guy came on with his own band for a short blues set.
The guitar still draws the crowd best and remains the king of all forms of rock. And Hendrix still sits at the top of the list. While that list shifts every few years, no one dares to move Jimi off the top spot, and for good reason. A slide show and video of Hendrix playing before and during the show reminded us that there was no one like him — not only as a guitar player, but as an influential force still to be reckoned.