Hendrix rocks Berkeley on new DVDWritten by Brian Bohnert | | firstname.lastname@example.org
One loud squeal of a High E string sends a small venue in Berkeley, Calif., into complete silence. For a few seconds, fans stare mesmerized as smoke fills the room.
After what feels like minutes, the silence is broken with a ferocious power chord and soulful words that send the crowd into an uproar …
“Excuse me while I kiss the sky!”
And then, guitar legend Jimi Hendrix tilts his head back and does just that.
That was May 30, 1970. That was rock music at its finest. That was the night Jimi played Berkeley.
Forty-two years later, rock fans young and old can relive the classic concert and “experience” Hendrix live in a stunning new Blu-Ray and DVD from Legacy Recordings and Experience Hendrix LLC.
Released July 10, “Jimi Plays Berkeley” is a newly restored version of the historic documentary film that depicts the two concerts the legendary rocker played at the Berkeley Community Theatre only months before his tragic passing. Combining some of the most powerful guitar play in rock history with a heavy fusion of late-’60s counterculture, “Jimi Plays Berkeley” is a perfect addition to any music lover’s collection.
The film, which has been digitally retransferred from its original 16mm film stock, features nearly 15 minutes of documentary material, previously unseen from the original 1971 release.
The extra material adds a lot of substance to the performance footage, showcasing just how important musicians like Hendrix were to the late-’60s, anti-war culture through powerful images of protest, riots and police violence in the midst of Vietnam.
During a loud, blues-infused performance of his anti-war anthem “Machine Gun,” Hendrix belts out powerful lyrics like “Evil man make me kill ya’’ and “Evil man make you kill me” as hundreds of college students march during a student strike, flanked by police officers.
Later in the song, intensity grows with a chillingly telling view of the antiwar sentiment: “Yeah, that’s what we don’t wanna’ hear anymore, all right. No bullets, at least not here. No guns, no bombs. No nothin’, just let’s all live and live; you know, instead of killin.’” In front of the music, riot police shoot tear gas into the air while they violently swing their batons at the young protesters, an image very reminiscent of events taking place all around the country at that time.
The film also includes performance footage of Hendrix classics like “Purple Haze,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and a fast, high-energy cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” one of the band’s best musical performances of the show. For being more than four decades old, the video and audio both hold up really well. The sound is crisp and clear, and the somewhat grainy film stock provides a pleasantly nostalgic setting for any flower child.
Admittedly never lyrically driven in his music, Hendrix delivers some of his most solid vocal work in this live setting with “Hear My Train A Comin,’” a blues track at heart that is blessed by wailing solos and hard rock melodies. While singing words like “Tears burnin’ me, way down in my heart. Well, you know it’s too bad, little girl, it’s too bad. Too bad we have to part,” both Hendrix’s hands and vocal cords seem to be taken over by the bluesy tune. His fingers spit out sporadic, quick, stinging solos, often not even picking at the strings.
Another new feature in “Jimi Plays Berkeley” is an in-depth interview with Abe Jacob, the audio engineer for the Berkeley show, as well as many other Hendrix concerts. While this feature is not necessarily set to be a favorite for every fan, hardcore music history aficionados will definitely appreciate Jacob’s insights into the legendary show, as well as an intimate look into the Jimi Hendrix Experience as a whole.
Also included in the DVD is a special feature called “The Second Set,” an audio-only presentation of Hendrix’s complete second show at Berkeley. Like the video performances, the 5.1 surround sound gives the age-old live audio a clear, crisp sound, even with instrument feedback and a roaring crowd. Delivering over an hour of psychedelic hits like “Pass It On (Straight Ahead),” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and “Purple Haze,” the audio-only section is just as good a listen as any modern live album.
“Jimi Plays Berkeley” is a film that tells a story without actually “telling” the story. The filmmakers did an excellent job capturing Hendrix’s essence by using his wailing riffs and psychedelic subject matter to tell a story about something much more than a Jimi Hendrix concert on one May evening. Hendrix says something about late 60s society. Or, as one sweaty, excited fan puts it … “He says things with his guitar, man.”