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By Martine Ehrenclou
Unlike many others who attended the Experience Hendrix Concert March 1, 2017 at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, I didn’t go to have a Jimi Hendrix experience as much as I went to see certain iconic guitar players do Hendrix. I wanted an up close and personal experience of seeing insanely talented guitarists pay tribute to one of the greatest guitarists of all time. The line up consisted of Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne) Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang and Billy Cox (bassist for several of Jimi Hendrix’s bands,) and others.
The crowd at this concert was almost as interesting as the show itself. I suspected that a lot of people were there to submerge themselves in a Hendrix concert, maybe to re-experience what you might call the freedom of that time or the spirit of the “Electric Church.” I found myself relaxing into a similar state of mind once the lackluster opening acts finished and the headliners jump-started the show.
The show consisted of mostly Hendrix originals and some cover tunes that Hendrix had recorded and performed in concert. On a very large screen behind the band, a digital backdrop swirled psychedelic colors and shapes, evocative of the 60’s.
Zakk Wylde was a jolt of espresso on stage. Wylde was in his element as a true showman, showcasing his skills with metal shredding. I wasn’t sure if he was more involved with the showmanship or if performing just energized the heck out of him. He commanded attention with impressive soloing and riffs on “Manic Depression” while he held the guitar above his head and behind his back, as Hendrix once had. Wylde paid homage to Hendrix even down to playing his guitar with his teeth.
Still playing the guitar above his head, Wylde strutted down the steps from the stage and into the aisles. This triggered a surge of adrenalin in the crowd, pushing them to their feet, hands and phones high in the air. Most were hollering and whooping as Wylde paraded past us. Sound staff trailed behind him, holding his guitar cables as he played, “Little Wing.” Wylde never missed a beat with that song or his solo.
Zakk Wylde was certainly the right choice to push this 2-½ hour concert into high gear.
When Jonny Lang appeared on stage with his acoustic guitar, a Martin J-40, I knew I was about to see what I’d come for. I’d heard how good he was but I didn’t have any idea just how good. It was Lang’s vocals I noticed first. This guy can really sing, and sing like he means it. His voice on “The Wind Cries Mary” was soulful, almost heartbreaking. Lang digs deep when he sings and that sensitivity comes through as if he’d written the songs himself.
Switching to a truly beautiful Fender Custom Telecaster Thinline, Jonny Lang made that guitar sing too. He’s quite the guitar player and paid a perfect tribute to Hendrix. Lang was definitely less aware of his performance than some of the other artists that night. That kind of genuine love of playing music combined with his amazing guitar and vocal skills, is an inspiration. If you haven’t listened to his music or seen him perform live, I highly recommend it.
Addressing the audience between songs, Lang said to the crowd with a smile, “It’s so cool you love Hendrix’s music.” You could tell he was loving this. Lang then launched into “All Along The Watchtower” with a true passion for the song. The crowd roared with praise. By the end of the song, the aisles were jammed with people, all dancing and swaying to the music. One guy, who must have been in his late sixties, was manically jumping by his seat.
Next up was Noah Hunt, powerhouse vocalist for the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. He belted a couple of Hendrix tunes that his voice was well suited for.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd then took the stage. He dazzled us all with “Voodoo Child,” almost channeling Jimi Hendrix himself. I’m sure Shepherd came away with a full house of fans if they didn’t know about him already. KWS is an insane guitar player who sinks into the music with a deep throttle sound. He nailed it, honoring Hendrix by paying homage to the sound with several songs. No hattricks to simply impress the crowd but superb skill and a love of the music.
The standout performance of the night, in my opinion, was Shepherd’s solo on “Voodoo Child,” where he sat down on a speaker in front, the stage dark, the spotlight on him, the band quiet except for a touch of base and drums. That solo can only be described as musical poetry. He allowed for space between the phrases, creating emotion in the solo. For a guitar player to make listeners really feel something, much like Jimi Hendrix did himself, sets him apart from a number of guitarists who might be just as technically proficient.
The evening closed with the great, Buddy Guy, who I’d never seen live. What a consummate professional, a true bluesman. On the song, “Louisiana Blues,” Guy showed the house who the true blues guitar master really was. Guy played with finesse, with subtlety between the knockout riffs and solos. At age 80, it was obvious he had nothing to prove to anyone. Talk about being in the moment with the Hendrix tunes he and his band played, paying tribute to Hendrix in a way only Buddy Guy could.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the band that supported all these great guitarists and vocalists that night. Mato Nanji was the main guitarist and this guy rocked it. As did Scott Nelson on bass and Chris Layton on drums.
How do you capture a concert like this on paper? You can’t. But the musicians did an awesome job honoring the great, Jimi Hendrix.