The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live in Maui Album Review


In early spring of 1970, Jimi Hendrix’s manager Michael Jefferey convinced Warner Bros. executives to dump $1 million into his client’s name. Half of it went to finish Hendrix’s state-of-the-art Electric Lady Studios. And half went to Jefferey himself, intended to kickstart his new career as a film producer with Hendrix providing the soundtrack. That half-million was thrown into the money pit that was Rainbow Bridge, a piece of hippie drivel by Warhol acolyte Chuck Wein that glommed onto surfing and tai chi, casting a bunch of amateurs and Hawaiian locals.

As the film production spun out of control, Jefferey pitched an overburdened Hendrix on Hawaii: two weeks of relaxation and two shows tacked onto the end of his Cry of Love Tour. It would be a ”vibratory color sound experiment,” as Wein spun it, with the audience segmented by astrological sign. Hendrix wanted no part of the debacle, but nevertheless found himself on a stage hastily erected near the Haleakalā volcano on a ranch in Olinda. It made for a stunning tableaux, but gale-force winds left the band struggling to stand upright, much less hear themselves onstage. It would also be Hendrix’s penultimate concert in the United States. Six weeks later, he was dead.

While the two concerts were filmed and recorded for Rainbow Bridge, the finished product, so dependent on his presence, only featured a baffling 17 minutes of footage of Hendrix, and the album of the same name featured none of the audio. Thanks to those winds, drummer Mitch Mitchell had to re-record all of his parts in the studio. Live in Maui presents both concerts for the first time, along with an accompanying documentary. For a posthumous discography that has seen numerous recordings from that final tour officially reissued (Berkeley, Atlanta, Isle of Wight), Live in Maui has Hendrix performing the near-miracle of elevating above an earthly debacle to offer a glimpse of transcendence.

That last tour—and Maui in particular—captures the myriad forces pulling at the guitar god during what Robert Christgau called “the excited, spiritual, bummed-out sprawl of his final year.” A headlining rock act constantly dealing with slapdash festival sound while also trying to build a studio to his exacting standards and finish a new album, Hendrix was pushing towards weaving in more Black musical strands while bogged down by his primarily white audiences’ expectations. They wanted “Purple Haze,” “Fire,” and “Foxy Lady” for the thousandth time, while Hendrix was seeking beyond those increasingly threadbare numbers towards something funky, if not yet fully formed. The band reflected that divide, a hybrid Experience of longtime English drummer Mitchell and Hendrix’s fellow Chitlin’ Circuit survivor and Band of Gypsys bassist Billy Cox. Together, the trio were working through those not-yet-settled new songs in real time. Incandescent blues numbers and hurried run-throughs of the hits sit alongside very loose jams that stumble about, shuffle, nearly dissolve, and then suddenly shoot skyward.

The first set boasts slightly better clarity, the second set coming across more muffled. But the wider canvas of these two sets offers him a freedom he didn’t always have on that tour. Rather than frontload the hits, the trio gets to take their time, folding in a dozen new songs that had yet to appear on any album. Maybe that extended time in Maui eased Hendrix’s mind. So the set opens with “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun),” rather than close with it, as they often had on previous dates. What might have been the title track of the next Jimi Hendrix record blooms with a gorgeous, iridescent guitar tone like a sentient waterfall.

Effortless guitar heroics abound, from the chopped “Sunshine of Your Love” chords sprinkled into “Fire” to the “Star Spangled Banner” quote teased in the last moments of “Purple Haze.” When it seems like the rarely performed “Villanova Junction” is about to dissolve into silence, it pivots into a storming take on “Ezy Rider.” Even on the big hits duly rendered here, Hendrix at some point in each song hits a frequency akin to a serotonin release, reminding you why his music is equivocated to the euphoric highs of drugs or sex. Or just go near the two-minute mark of Maui’s version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” when his guitar seems to be shooting down from a mile above the stage. “I kept thinking a spaceship was landing,” remembers one film cast member in the documentary, and it doesn’t sound like stoner hyperbole.

The seeds of Afrofuturism reside in this gravity-defying tone, yet Jimi was equally profound and transcendent burning through a slow blues. “Red House” appears here in a peculiarly short but still potent version. But it’s Hendrix’s lashing of “Hear My Train A-Comin’” that staggers: sorrowful, unbowed, and pissed, his guitar obliterating all in its path.

Blame the messiness of his estate in the wake of his tragic death, or confounding number of posthumous compilations and concert recordings, but is there an icon of the boomer era who has been needlessly diminished like Hendrix in the 21st century? “Jimi Hendrix looms large among those lapses in our collective consciousness,” cultural critic Greg Tate writes. “His absence from a general celebration of African American heroes is both absurd and symptomatic of a more widespread problem: cultural and political amnesia…Hendrix [remains] one of the most misunderstood and misapprehended.”

A Black genius plying a once wholly Black music before a now peculiarly white world of rock (the footage of a crowd composed primarily of blissed-out blond flower children before the man himself appears seems even more absurd in the present), Hendrix paved the way for every subsequent and successful Black visionary to follow in his wake—think Stevie, George, Marvin, Prince. Live in Maui sees the man pushing beyond the boundaries of rock towards something new and untenable. Maybe it was right to call it “a vibratory color sound experiment.”


Buy: Rough Trade

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