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.
]]>The answer really depends on how into Hendrix you are…
If you are a serious fan, a completist, then yes you want to own this. It is a nice addition to the great series of reissues and new release expansion to the Hendrix catalog as overseen by the Hendrix Estate. If you are an audiophile simply wanting one good representative live Hendrix album, you may be better served by other hotter shows recorded at Monterey, Winterland, Woodstock or Berkeley.
Another way to consider collecting Hendrix on vinyl may be correlated to its existence on video. For example, these days you can find video of Jimi’s smoking performances at Berkeley in 1970; since they are on Blu-ray now, you probably don’t need to have that old copy of Hendrix In The West in your collection anymore. Woodstock and Monterey are essential to own on video as well, both available on Blu-ray Disc. The Winterland shows have been put out partially on vinyl so while they are great, they do get some dings on some forums I’ve read for edits and incomplete shows (disclosure: I have not heard them yet on vinyl). That leaves the legendary New Years Eve show by Hendrix and The Band of Gypsies which has been expanded for the Live at The Fillmore album. While I don’t have this one on vinyl — yet — I do own the DVD of that show and it is dark, blurry and not easy to watch given it was 1970 videotape that was never really meant for commercial release. But it is a great performance so that might be one of your better options to consider. I am going to be checking into that one myself actually.
Or… heck… if this is all too complicated, treat yourself and splurge and just get them all. You deserve it and you really can’t go wrong with any Hendrix albums, frankly.
Yeah. That is the answer. Become a Hendrix completist!
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who’s songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.