“A bit more volume on this one, Charlie, it’s going to need it,” says a roadie testing microphones — and then Jimi Hendrix comes onstage and proves him absolutely right. This live album captures a thrilling Hendrix gig in the U.K. at the Isle of Wight Festival, on August 30th, 1970 — between sets from Jethro Tull and Joan Baez. Unlike many Hendrix repackagings, this record is not just for wonks who want to pore over every note of the “Red House” solo — it’s an amazing document that will grab your ears and twist them.
The show starts with an incendiary version of “God Save the Queen” — no, not the Sex Pistols song, which came seven years later, but the British national anthem, a sequel to Hendrix’s take on “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (One can only hope that continued archival work will uncover Hendrix doing “La Marseillaise” and “O Canada.”) Since this concert marked Hendrix’s return to the United Kingdom, where he made his name, he plays like he has something to prove. Even a short cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is imbued with real passion.
The Isle of Wight show was among Hendrix’s last concerts; three weeks later, he was dead. If you want to find clues as to where he was headed musically, you won’t find many here. He performs “Dolly Dagger,” slated for inclusion on his never-completed album First Rays of the New Rising Sun, and although it’s a solid up-tempo song, it doesn’t break any new ground for him.
This concert has been released before, but only on woefully truncated discs. The show’s centerpiece, previously unavailable, is “Machine Gun”: twenty-two astonishing minutes of Hendrix fireworks, encompassing both a savage guitar assault and improvisation that stretches out like Silly Putty. It’s a worthy final testament.