Two cherished Jimi Hendrix performances in Hawaii before his untimely death get the release they deserve
Tracking Jimi Hendrix live shows could just about be a vocation in itself. And his shows in Maui come with enough infamy attached that aficionados might have highlighted the dates on their charts.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience (this version with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox) were sent out to Hawaii in the summer of 1970 to help manager Michael Jeffery with his ill-conceived film Rainbow Bridge. The film itself turned out to be a mess with only a small chunk of Hendrix music included. The concerts suffered from their exposed location, with high winds affecting the recording. Hendrix died a few weeks later, and the shows drifted into lore.
VIDEO: Original Rainbow Bridge film trailer
Along with new documentary about the experience Music, Money, Madness . . . Jimi Hendrix In Maui, the original shows have been restored as much as possible for the two-disc set Live in Maui. Some technical problems remain (resulting in an odd choice to resequence), and some of the tracks include Mitchell’s overdubs from 50 years ago (themselves a remarkable piece of musicianship). The finished document necessarily remains imperfect, but it captures both a unique show and a period of transition for the trio.
The first set starts casually. With the audience seated by astrological signs and a general out-there vibe, Hendrix sounds as if he’s been enjoying the beach. It only takes a couple songs for him to get going, though, as “In from the Storm” picks up the force. Cox’s bass comes to the fore here (though the group doesn’t achieve the aggression of some of the Band of Gypsy performances). The mix, whether through technical issues or artistic choice, would be better served by bringing Cox to the fore more, because his lines deserve attention both on their own and in how he interacts with his bandmates.
VIDEO: Jimi Hendrix Experience “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” live in Maui, HI
From that point, the band surges. Both “Foxey Lady” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” are hammering manifestos (which were almost to be expected at this point). Even so, Hendrix sounds at ease, as with his cool introduction to “Hear My Train A-Comin’.” That track builds steadily if a little sloppily, hinting at the way Hendrix merges more the more psychedelic parts of his sound with tradition. “Message to Love” offers a playful end to the day’s first set, matching the attitude that inserted a nod to “The Star Spangled Banner” during “Purple Haze”.
The second set, with fewer hits and an even looser sound, in some ways makes for a more intriguing run of songs. Hendrix plays with an increasingly casual freedom, and while the band plays off each other well, it gives the concert a high-wire feel, which rewards more often than not. Some of the joy lies in the songs themselves, but much of it lies in listening to Hendrix find his way through the transitions. “Dolly Dagger” to “Villanova Junction” to “Ezy Ryder” makes for a stunning suite. The pause afterward gives way to “Red House,” comfort food for Hendrix that allows him to get a little too noodley here. That jam sense permeates much of the set until the group focuses for closer “Stone Free.”
The concert finds charms in its imperfections, and while it’s not a perfect pair of shows, it’s an intriguing one. Sequencing aside, the release finally puts vital material out there in high quality form. It also provides one more aspect to anyone trying to understand where Hendrix was headed in the next era of his career. Putting Mitchell and Cox together alone suggests some new avenues, maybe increasing the funky side of the sound, but in Maui, Hendrix sounds less like he’s looking for utterly new ground and more like he’s searching for new ways to synthesize the various elements of his sound, as if he could simultaneously turn up the meter for rock, blues, psychedelia, and funk.
It didn’t always come together on that windy island mountain, but it still showed artists reaching for unclimbed heights.