Experience Hendrix Tribute Tour 2012
March 10, 2012
By Gary Weeks
For a little more than two hours, Atlanta’s Fox Theater became the “electric church” in which Jimi Hendrix often sought to build a musical vision that never became fully realized due to his death at the early age of twenty-seven. So the music became the celebration of an artist whose legacy still grows and whose family endlessly unearths recordings that find their way into the public’s hands.
Of course the focus of the show was on the guitar players themselves. And for any Atlanta axe wielders sitting out in the audience, this must have been a dream come true. What was represented was the finest in the elite blues-rock corp.
An ensemble of bassist Billy Cox, guitarists Eric Gales and Mato Nanji, and drummer Chris Layton were a terrific opener, slamming down the Hendrix classic “Stone Free.” At seventy years of age, Cox can still lay down the rhythm and belted out vocals that belied his senior citizen status. And with a troubled past that looks like it’s clear behind him, Eric Gales relished his role in being a fiery axe man who can unleash Fender fire. He certainly was living it up trading fours with Dweezil Zappa in the furious, roughnecked “Manic Depression.” While Layton drummed a good majority of the show, Cox made only sporadic appearances while other bassists came and went.
Keb’ Mo’ came on the scene years ago as a blues artist steeped in acoustic traditions. Here he strapped on an electric guitar in the hopeful attempt of playing a rocker’s game. Certainly his rendition of “Catfish Blues” was satisfactory, but Keb’s portion of the show lacked the fire and fury the other axe masters were putting down. No question the guy can play lead, but it’s hard to follow other guitarists such as Mato Nanji, whose rendition of the obscure Hendrix chestnut “Hear My Train A-Comin” was letter perfect in delivery and execution.
Pedal-steel guitarist Robert Randolph took things over the top. With assistance from the members of the Slide Brothers, his version of “Purple Haze” was unique. Playing pedal steel on an acid anthem is uncanny but Randolph managed to make it work as he sprayed steely fire with fretboard gymnastics that blurred the lines of weirdness and bravado.
Having to endure of living in the shadow of the Toxic Twins, Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford showed the crowd he can play a mean lead or two when forced to do it. Pairing him up with Johnny Lang worked its wonders as the two of them jammed hot and heavy on the fantasy “Spanish Castle Magic.”
Elder statesman Buddy Guy was his usual self. Joking and making light of things, Guy is the consummate entertainer and can still teach blues-rockers how it’s done. The man can still rip notes and turn a fretboard into smoldering ash.
But it was Kenny Wayne Sheppard who stood above it all. With long-time vocalist Noah Hunt in tow, Sheppard turned in a set of blues-rock thats sole purpose was to give a listener a heart attack. Kenny earned the right to roam the stage and play the rock star. His channeling of Hendrix sent shivers in the coverage of the rocker “I Don’t Live Today” and the blues mojo of “Voodoo Child.”
Lasting a little under three hours, this was a guitar player’s dream. The biggest disappointment of this gig was that it just ended too soon. Surely it amuses Hendrix himself as he looks down upon this all and he must be pleased that his music appeals to generations across the globe. If this is what he meant by the “Electric Church,” than his dream was achieved.
Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Gary Weeks is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
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