The Experience Hendrix Tour, which has been going on intermittently since 2004, collects guitar stars and singers performing the songs Jimi Hendrix made famous.
The lineup can be a bit fluid as fans found out Tuesday when they arrived at the State Theatre for the last night of this year’s 25-city tour. Taj Mahal and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith were out because of “last-minute personal conflicts” (according to a sign posted at the box office), and Eric Gales was enlisted instead.
No complaints about Gales, a left-handed guitarist (like Jimi) who has a strong spirit and sense of showmanship, befitting the Hendrix tradition.
But too many of other featured stars in the back-loaded, 2 ½-hour, two-set program failed to truly capture the essence of Hendrix. Call this a Band of Pros.
To be sure, there were a lot of terrifically talented guitar players, including Dweezil Zappa, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, but not enough of them exuded the multi-dimensional joys of Jimi.
Jonny Lang, the Minneapolis-launched live-wire sporting a longer hairdo, came the closest because his singing was as passionate as his guitar playing. In fact, he threw his entire body into his performance, with the emotionalism of his guitar organically continuing the feelings of the lyrics he’d just sung.
On “Fire,” his rip-roaring guitar lines just kept rising higher and higher like flames that couldn’t be extinguished.
Probably the highlight of the night was Lang teaming up with Doyle Bramhall II and Rich Robinson, of the Black Crowes, on “Spanish Castle Magic,” which turned into a ferocious guitar battle between Lang and Bramhall.
The fretboard fireworks continued with the ensuing performance by Shepherd, a fast and flashy player. But he’s not a singer. Isn’t that one of Jimi’s legacies – handling guitar and vocals with equal authority?
Instead, Shepherd let Noah Hunt, the singer with the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, sing Jimi’s words. Hunt looked like the frontman of a Bob Seger tribute band, toted the microphone stand around like a dork and occasionally played tambourine, looking like he was Will Ferrell in a variation of a “Saturday Night Live” skit.
Shepherd’s closing, crowd-pleasing set of “Gypsy Eyes,” Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)” and “Voodoo Chile”/”Voodoo Child” felt so bar band-like – except the sound system was awesome and Shepherd had a fancy orange metallic guitar (isn’t orange last year’s black?).
Props to drummer Chris Layton who was a steady presence throughout -- on all two-dozen songs. The rest of the backup players revolved throughout the night. Featured on numbers at the beginning and end was bassist Billy Cox, the only surviving member of Hendrix’s three groups.
Like Jimi’s sister, Janie Hendrix, who greeted the fans at the beginning of the concert, Cox came across as a dedicated promoter of Jimi’s legacy. As the crowd filed out at night's end Cox declared, “When you wear a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, people look at you like you’re someone special.”
Photo of Jimi Hendrix from the Associated Press.