This album has to be judged as three-year-old music or simply as a most welcome souvenir. If you were there, you’ll probably like it more than if you weren’t. But even if you weren’t, you’ll find some very satisfying music by two of our most gifted artists. I’m not going to go into why you’ll probably like it more if you were there; see the movie. I was there, and I like it a lot.
Starting with the best, the side with Hendrix is devastating. What’s so devastating about it is this: as overpowering as it is by three-year-old standards, as good as it is today, it stands pale next to his cuts on Woodstock, It’s really hard to believe anyone who started out that good could have improved that much.
Listen to his raps, since they date the album as much as the music. He’s so nervous, and so sincere. This is Jimi Hendrix in his American debut, before he went out on tour as the supporting act to the Monkees.
He plays crazy games with the rhythms on “Like a Rolling Stone,” and then fills the bridges with his sonic licks. Who is this guy? Unknowns don’t just step out on the stage and open their set with Dylan‘s greatest song. Jimi did, and he did it up just fine.
Followed it up with a speedy version of “Rock Me Baby” including a solo that made no sense at all, just because there’d never been anything like it before. When he sang the last verse, he played guitar in perfect counterpoint to his vocal. “Can You See Me” was even more cacophonous, what with that four-handed drummer.
And finally “Wild Thing,” which Hendrix introduced with guitar sounds that were impossible. They played the song (Jimi sang it real saucy), and then he made music just by banging his guitar on the amplifier, by humping it, by breaking down all barriers between man and instrument.
For an encore, he burned it. Really freaked the folks out.
Otis comes off a slight disappointment now, though he was the highlight then. To this audience, he wasn’t much better known than Hendrix, he came on late Saturday, when people were getting cold and tired, and in 30 seconds he had everybody standing on his chair screaming “Shake!”
On record, it doesn’t come off quite as well. Not just because the visual is missing either; all five of these songs are on Live In Europe, released right around the time of Monterey, and sound a bit better on that album.
No point in quibbling, though, because “Shake” is a bitch. He showed us the way “Respect” was written. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” slowed it down for a few sweet minutes, and “Satisfaction” jerked it right back up. He says “Try a Little Tenderness” is his favorite, and performs it accordingly. Booker T and the MG’s are right there throughout, with Steve Cropper chording ferociously.
Otis was a man with a mission that night, breaking new ground, and, once we got to know him a little better, it became clear Monterey was more a high point in his career than his music. Still, memories are made of sets like this.