So, July 1970 sees an (unwilling) Jimi Hendrix and co. arrive in Hawaii for an ‘event’ which has since gone done in Hendrix folklore. Construction on Hendrix’s Electric Lady studio was struggling, proving to be a much costlier affair than anticipated. To help offset costs, Hendrix had agreed to play 2 shows in Maui and star in a film, ‘Rainbow Bridge’, conceived (through a haze of smoke) as a surfers riposte to ‘Easy Rider’.
However, as was often the case with the beautiful people, there were drugs in abundance and no real plan of action. Also no script, no professional actors or plot – just lot’s of flower power psycho babble…the gigs were to be, and I quote, “vibratory colour sound experiments”. The “bridge” was envisaged as a pathway to the “multi-universes”, a link between the enlightened and unenlightened worlds. There was much talk of vibrations, dropping out, grooviness, love-ins and, erm, turning on. Man.
Unsurprisingly given it’s ‘relaxed’ conception, the film was a mess, full of baffling psychedelic far-outness and little in the way of watchable cohesion. There was a scant 16 minutes of Hendrix footage, further baffling the hippies expecting to see a concert film. Oh, and just to further muddy this particular puddle, Reprise released ‘Rainbow Bridge: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’ in ’71…which contained no audio recordings from the film or shows. On the plus side, Electric Lady construction was completed.
Still, at least the concerts remain. A (tiny) stage was erected at the foot of a dormant volcano (Halekala) and a chemically enhanced audience of 400 (the film-makers forgot to, like, actually publicise the gig, man) assembled. Jimi played two sets (both of which are included here). However, true to form for this adventure, 50mph winds affected the recording of the shows. Mitch Mitchell’s drums were literally blown away, forcing him to re-record his parts in the studio.
Both of these shows have long been available in “unoffical” forms but, thanks to the good people of the Hendrix estate and legendary producer Eddie Kramer, we now have this official release, blessed with crystal clear sound, and what a tale of two shows it is.
Set one is explosive. It’s largely a hits set. After a loose warm up, Hendrix warns the crowd – “plug your ears, it’s gonna be loud” – before blasting into a thunderous ‘Foxey Lady’. It’s drenched in fuzz, rightfully earning it’s place as a proto-stoner anthem. those famous held vibrato notes absolutely howl.
And then he’s off and running. ‘Hear My Train A-Comin’ takes us on a ten minute slow blues journey into the cosmos, it’s basic framework setting Hendrix up, allowing him to fly. Hendrix wrings every note, every sound, every acid-soaked colour out of his Strat, he soars, swoops, dives and conjours up an army of sludge in an attempt to level that volcano.
‘Voodoo Child’ towers like an aural skyscraper. It’s primal, elemental, things don’t get much heavier than this. And just look at the video above. One pedal! One pedal is all it took for him to do that. Today’s pretenders to the throne would have a bank of them at their disposal…and has anyone else still ever managed to quite sound like that?
We slingshot into ‘Fire’, which adds a cheeky snippet of ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’, before roaring into a funky, molten ‘Purple Haze’ – it’s a belching, ‘Star Spangled Banner’ quoting, distorting-gobbling monster of a thing, finally screaming and roaring to a stop like a wounded dinosaur. Bassist Billy Cox says it’s the best show they ever played and it’s hard to argue with that.
Show two is a very different creature. It’s looser, jammier, slower, more stoned. It mostly consists of new material which would have eventually ended up on his fourth studio album (and can mostly be heard on the posthumous ‘First Rays Of The New Rising Sun’). The audience wouldn’t have known any of this material. Does Jimi care? Nope. He’s workshopping, live on stage, finding out what works and what doesn’t, working out arrangements on the fly. It’s a fascinating listen.
Songs jam into each other, there’s a definite let’s-see-where-this-goes vibe. Several of these songs had also been jammed at Woodstock but the versions here are different creatures altogether. ‘Villanova Junction’ grooves out into an even more lethargic version of itself while ‘Jam Back At The House’ becomes a desert rock/James Brown mash-up, veering wildly from boy racer to Sunday driver. We finally get a hit in the shape of ‘Stone Free’ which also drops a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it snatch of ‘Hey Joe’ into the mix. Despite almost falling apart at the seams the show just about holds together.
You often get the feeling with Hendrix concerts that he couldn’t give a damn if there was an audience there or not. There was only ever one person he was trying to impress…he’s playing for himself. And that certainly seems to be the case here, and for two different reasons. In set one he appears to be seeing how far he can go, what he can do, what other-worldly sounds he can wrench out of that guitar, can wrestle from those six simple strings. It’s a pyrothechnic masterclass, he plugs in and streaks away from the pack, leaving his peers and rivals gazing, slack-jawed, into the dust he’s kicked up.
Set two is an exercise in song writing. He’s jamming, seeing what else materialises when he plays the songs he’s working on. It’s fried, it’s frazzled, it’s a Sunday afternoon studio noodle played to an audience who look so, erm, blissful, that they probably don’t even remember they were there anyway, so there’s no harm done. The shows here are also a better, more positive representation of late era Hendrix gigs than his lacklustre, moody appearance at the Isle Of Wight festival. Plus, you get a fascinating feature-length documentary about the shows/film on disc three. An essential purchase for Hendrix fans.
Review by Gary Cordwell
Released by Legacy Recordings on 20 November 2020
- Chuck Wein Introduction
- Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)
- In From The Storm
- Foxey Lady
- Hear My Train A-Comin’
- Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
- Purple Haze
- Spanish Castle Magic
- Lover Man
- Message To Love
- Dolly Dagger
- Villanova Junction
- Ezy Rider
- Red House
- Jam Back At The House
- Straight Ahead
- Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)/Midnight Lightning
- Stone Free
- Music, Money, Madness…Jimi Hendrix in Maui (DVD)