Judge Ryan Keefer says what if Hendrix and Redding played together? Forget about it.
"I'm gonna sacrifice something right here that I really love, OK?"—Jimi Hendrix, shortly before creating music history.
The Monterey Pop Festival is the first part of a bizarre concert festival "trilogy" of the late '60s that seemed to reflect the times more than any other thing could. In Monterey, the muted festival had a ton of great artists showcasing their talents and they were received quite well, just like, say, the first X-Men. Part two was Woodstock, with a larger audience, bigger musical acts and a slew of memorable performances from start to finish, like X2: X-Men United. Part three was Altamont (and source of the film Gimme Shelter), where the Rolling Stones wanted to put on a "Woodstock West," and the result was a fan's death at the hands of some Hell's Angels, possibly putting an end to the period of peace and love. Sucky third act? Well, look to X-Men: The Last Stand on that I guess.
Comic book movie analogies aside, Monterey was noteworthy for several reasons, but it unknowingly marked two milestones in music for different reasons. The first one was obviously the American debut of Jimi Hendrix, who had been tearing things up in London and leaving the jaws of guitarists like Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend and Jeff Beck on the floors of whatever clubs they were in when they experienced (pun intended) Jimi and his band. Even as Townsend's London band The Who arrived in Monterey and played a blistering set that resulted in their equipment being sacrificed as kindling by the members, Hendrix came out and killed the crowd dead, starting by playing an electrifying version of "Killing Floor" (an old Howlin' Wolf song) and not letting up until his guitar was set on fire, giving us one of the most memorable shots in rock music history. The songs in his set included "Foxy Lady," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Hey Joe," and "Wild Thing," and I recall saying awhile back that when I first saw this again in 2002 after some time, Jimi's creativity, showmanship and virtuosity were among the best of anyone in his life, and his work as a guitarist was (and continues to be) light years ahead of everyone. And in today's music world where most of what is seen and heard today is packaged into nice, convenient four minute morsels of stagnant chords and arrangements, seeing Jimi do what Jimi does best reminds me why I like music to begin with, because in all likelihood, we may never see it again.
The other milestone of note for music fans is that Otis Redding came to Monterey. Backed by a more than able group of musicians from Memphis, many of whom (like Steve Cropper) went on to appear in the Blues Brothers films years later, Redding's set was punctuated by moments of soul and passion that few artists could match. At first a curious choice to close the second day of the concert (the original choice of the Beach Boys were unable to attend), his versions of "Shake," "Respect," "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "Satisfaction" and "Try a Little Tenderness" constantly engaged the crowd, who by the end of the set fell in love with the man from Georgia whose life was cut short by a plane crash three months later. Redding's success at Monterey helped show the white audience who were getting more and more into psychedelic or experimental rock that soul still reigned supreme, and Redding's surprising reception helped spur on great sales of records by groups like Sly and the Family Stone and (in a crystallizing moment several years later) the widespread love and attention given to Marvin Gaye's album "What's Going On."
Criterion has broken up its outstanding multi-disc package into a couple of parts, aside from a new essay by Rolling Stone writer David Fricke, the extras are the same, which isn't a bad thing. The commentary on the Hendrix piece is by music historian Charles Shaar Murray (who wrote a book about Hendrix' life) and it's got a bunch of information on it. Apparently, the same music executive who passed on signing Hendrix and the Beatles to label deals managed to land the Rolling Stones (good God, how cool must it have been to hold that job?). If covers everything, including the type of equipment Jimi used on his shows. Historian Peter Guralnick contributes not one, but two commentaries on Redding and to a larger extent, the Memphis Stax label that Redding came up on. There's even an interview with Redding's manager Phil Walden as he recalls what Otis did before and after Monterey before his death. All of this is really tasty icing on top of a perfect cake of DTS sound that was remixed by veteran engineer Eddie Kramer that sounds fantastic. Aside from really putting you in the middle of the concert hall, you can hear the guitarists' fingers move down the strings to search for different notes, along with other environmental stuff that goes on during the show. Sonically, it's a joy for the ears.
All in all, while the entire collection is worth its weight in gold, a lot of people probably picked it up for the Jimi and Otis second disc at the time. And now since Criterion has made the grand decision to release this separately, those of you that don't have this on DVD really have no excuse now. Fans of music should consider this an entry level class in the Masters program of rock and soul, as it's a desert island pick to have.
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