The first thing that jumped out at me when I put on the newly released 200-gram, perfectly centered LP of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Live at the Miami Pop Festival was silence. Not only the silence of the disc -- the albums are dead quiet and the music does lift off from the speakers -- but the relative silence of the crowd not entirely sure what to expect that day of May 18, 1968. Sure, you can hear some applause and cheering picked up (likely, mostly) through the stage microphones, but even then there is none of the mania that would become standard faire at festival concerts in the very near future. You see, as it turns out, this recording was made at the first ever Miami Pop Festival, which according to the album's liner notes was -- curiously enough --THE first rock festival on the East Coast, produced just about a year after the fabled Monterey Pop Festival, the place where much of America first heard about Jimi Hendrix.
In that Monterey audience apparently was a young hippie named Michael Lang who was so taken with the show he was moved to try his hand at it when he relocated to Miami a year later. There he pulled off many miracles securing a line up for his festival that included The Mothers of Invention, Steppenwolf, Chuck Berry, Blue Cheer, John Lee Hooker, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and, notably for this review, Jimi Hendrix as headliner.
Here's the cool significance behind all of this detail: Lang went on to produce Woodstock!
So in a way, this Miami Pop Festival was his proving ground for that sort of event. Had it failed, perhaps we might not have had the "three days of peace, love and music" that was Woodstock.
Anyhow, here we have this sterling, multi-track (probably eight-channel) recording of Hendrix, produced, engineered and mixed by his (soon to be) longtime cohort, Eddie Kramer. And it is a quite sterling recording. Pristine even. The band is playing with all cylinders firing and the stage is well mic'd for the times -- in the enclosed LP sized booklet, we see a kick drum mic and at least one over head mic for the drums alone. The bass and guitar amps are close-mic'd too. So, in effect, we are hearing the sound of the instruments right from the amps. And because this was an out of doors show, there isn't a whole lot of "room ambiance" to capture on the tape.
Combine that with a relatively quiet and respectful crowd and you have a recording that is essentially like listening to a live-in-the-studio album. Again, as I mentioned earlier, if you listen closely you can hear the crowd a bit, but in general they seem pretty calm for a festival audience. Maybe it was the balmy Miami weather -- combined with some primo herb -- that was making the crowd mellower than the breezy and invigorating crisp air common to the Monterey area.
How does this LP sound? Great! This may not be the most intense Hendrix listening experience you've ever heard -- Berkeley, Winterland, Woodstock, Monterey and a handful of other shows hold that crowning glory -- but its still a good one. There are some interesting jams such as "Tax Free" and the second-ever live work out of his seminal "Hear My Train A Comin'." Three sides long, the last features two tunes from the afternoon show which are also real sweet ("Fire," "Foxey Lady").
So, do you need to own this one? Hmmm.... good question. I was afraid you'd be asking that.