What more could a Hendrix fanatic searching for the ultimate live Jimi experience ask for? The 1991 box set Stages contains a total of 4 CDs, each containing one full concert from the years 1967 (in Stockholm), '68 (Paris), '69 (San Diego), and '70 (recorded in Atlanta just two months before his death). Many Hendrix fans already owned bootlegged copies of these concerts, but this was the first time that they were released officially, in crystal clear sound and with informative liner notes. The four discs are an obviously interesting musical journey, showing the rapid musical transformation of Hendrix from showman to serious virtuoso. And although there is a bit of overlap on the discs ("Purple Haze" rears its head on all four), the versions of the repeated songs are strikingly different.
Disc 1 (Stockholm '67) features the Jimi Hendrix Experience in their formative stage, and contains the only official release of the Experience's raw cover of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." This disc is the shortest of the four (barely over 30 minutes in length), containing no-nonsense (and almost 100% jam-less) versions of such standards as "Fire" and "Burning of the Midnight Lamp." The second disc (Paris '68) shows the group starting to stretch out musically (near nine-minute cover versions of both Muddy Waters' "Catfish Blues" and Curtis Knight's "Drivin' South" are the proof), and includes an absolutely gorgeous version of the electric ballad "Little Wing."
Disc 3 (San Diego '69) catches the Experience on one of their final tours with original bassist Noel Redding. The group is dedicated to jamming, combining a red-hot version of their "Spanish Castle Magic" with an explosive cover of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love." Also included is a long take of "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," which ends the show on a highly energetic and inspired note. By the final disc (Atlanta '70), Hendrix had assembled the Band of Gypsies, with Hendrix's army buddy Billy Cox replacing the ousted Noel Redding on bass (with Mitch Mitchell still behind the drums). Jimi had completely shunned his early concert gimmickry (lighting his guitar on fire, etc.), and by 1970 was making a conscious attempt at forcing his audience to listen to the music, without any distractions. This disc has three songs that were not released while Hendrix was alive ("Lover Man," "Straight Ahead," and "Room Full of Mirrors"), intended for his never really completed First Rays of the New Rising Sun album. You'll also be treated to a rare live version of "Stone Free," with its tempo sped up a notch. Admittedly, Stages may be too much to take for the new Jimi fan, but for diehards, it simply can't be beat.