Jimi Hendrix

Live at Woodstock [DVD 2005]

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His iconic performance of "Star Spangled Banner" aside, Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock set was not among his greatest concerts. He was working with an unwieldy short-lived band that, in addition to drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox, also included a second guitarist and two hand percussionists. He was playing before a tired, half-emptied-out crowd not long after dawn as the closing act of the festival, and his material sometimes drifted into unfocused improvisations. However, this particular DVD is likely to be the best visual document of that appearance. Unlike previous releases of the show, it has nearly everything he performed from that set, running over 80 minutes (as opposed to the 57 minutes of previous editions) and including six songs not seen or heard in previous versions.

Disc one of this two-DVD set focuses on the footage the Woodstock movie crew took of the concert itself, with a mix that heavily favors Hendrix's guitar and vocals and Mitchell's drums. Hand percussionists Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan, as well as second guitarist Larry Lee, are all but inaudible, though you can see them (indeed, Velez often seems in paroxysms of ecstasy, so exaggeratedly animated are his stage mannerisms). The camerawork heavily concentrates on Hendrix as well, and while it's an uneven show, it does contain some excellent highlights. His radical reinterpretation of "Star Spangled Banner" (used in the Woodstock film) is one, of course, and his explosive rendition of "Fire" is another. In addition to some of his most popular numbers ("Hey Joe," "Purple Haze," "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," "Spanish Castle Magic"), room was made for some more recent and more obscure material as well, including "Message to Love," "Izabella," and "Lover Man." Generally, though, the longer the song, the less riveting the performance, with "Woodstock Improvisation" in particular veering toward unstructured aimlessness. The concert footage is bookended by documentary sequences with interesting interviews, done decades after the event, with numerous figures associated with the event, including Mitchell, Cox, Lee, Sultan, Woodstock promoter Michael Lang, and even Rob Leonard of Sha Na Na (who did their set right before Hendrix's).

The bulk of disc two is devoted to something of a low-budget alternate Hendrix-Woodstock film. Most of the footage in this version was shot on black-and-white videotape by college student Albert Goodman. As he didn't capture the entire set, the gaps are linked by excerpts from the Woodstock crew's color footage to create an uninterrupted whole. Goodman's footage is low-budget, with some wavy and broken images, but does record much of the concert from different angles than the Woodstock movie's cameras did. It also has some footage from a song, "Hear My Train a Comin'," that the Woodstock crew didn't catch, as they needed to change film when it was being performed. It's far less well done and enjoyable than the footage on the first disc, but as a DVD extra, it does add to the visual material available from this historic concert, for those who want it. Also on the second disc of this DVD are interviews with engineer Eddie Kramer (who recorded the set); a segment with Cox and Lee, discussing their days with Hendrix in Nashville in the early '60s; and film of a press conference Hendrix gave on September 3, 1969, in Harlem, where he answered some questions about Woodstock. The best of those soundbites comes when he explains his rendition of "Star Spangled Banner": "We play it the way the air is in America today. The air is slightly static, isn't it?"

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