Buddy Guy emphasized the bluesy roots of Jimi Hendrix during Sunday's Experience Hendrix concert at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel / Adam Grim for Mystic Lake
How many guitar players does it take to light up a casino audience? The answer on Sunday night when the wammy-jammy Experience Hendrix tour came to Mystic Lake was three. The first two of the eight guitar masters who paraded across the casino’s enormous stage, Dweezil Zappa and Indigenous’ Mato Nanji, failed to get the rather crusty crowd to wake up out of what may have been a buffet-induced coma. But then out came Zakk Wylde.
Best known for his two decades touring with Ozzy Osbourne and still looking like a character from Conan the Barbarian, the hairy, beefy metal shredder walked to the far end of the stage and proceeded to play a two-minute solo that was way more “Eruption” than “Fire.” Then he soon walked into the crowd and got right in the sleepy fans’ faces, guaranteeing that all 2,000 of them were either going to love him or hate him but weren’t just going to shrug him off.
A decade since its first run, the Experience Hendrix tour itself isn’t to be taken lightly anymore. What seemed like a bit of a novelty at first is now an annual tradition with high expectations. Sunday’s lineup mixed things up enough to keep it interesting but played to those expectations, too, with mainstays Kenny Wayne Shepherd and ex-Minneapolitan Jonny Lang joined by newcomers Zappa, Wylde and sacred-steel specialist Calvin Cooke, plus one bona-fide legend, Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy, and one of Hendrix’s former bandmates, bassist Billy Cox.
Here are some impressions from the two-hour, 40-minute concert, which was the final night of this year’s tour:
Biggest letdown: While they rightfully saved Buddy Guy for the last slot, organizers didn’t save enough time for him or give him enough to do. The blues master, 80, essentially did his own thing for 10 minutes, strutting and cussing his way through a medley of “Mojo Hand” and “Close to You.” After that, though, he was relegated to simply playing backup with occasional solos in “Them Changes” and “Red House.” At least they gave him time to talk at the end of the night when the whole ensemble was taking a bow, which he did so gracefully after earlier referencing Chuck Berry. “I’m the last of the old ones,” Guy said mournfully, but then quipped, “These young guys inspire me. I can’t keep up with ‘em, but I can hang with ‘em.”
Most fired up: One of the younger guns Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his team are involved in organizing the tour, so no surprise that Shepherd also seemed to be the most invested in channeling Hendrix. He even played Stratocasters with upside down necks, like Jimi did, and synchronized it so he played with one hand in the air while the video screen showed photos of Hendrix doing the same. It might have come off a tad cheesy, but Shephered also nailed his songs with virtuosity and gusto, too, including “Gypsy Eyes” and especially “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).”
Sharpest turnaround: While Lang came out to rave applause from the former hometown crowd, he also came armed with an acoustic guitar and brought things down with an overwrought, wimpering version of “All Along the Watchtower.” When he plugged in for “Fire” and “Spanish Castle Magic,” though, he did a musical 180 and offered some great back-and-forth interplay with Nanji.
Least likely to play “Little Wing:” Zakk Wylde came out like a bull in a china shop with his solo and then a hard-rocking “Manic Depression,” but then he churned out a surprisingly elegant if somewhat more wicked version of Hendrix’s mellow classic while out wandering through the crowd.
MVPs: Drummer Chris Layton of Steve Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble was on stage longer than any musician on Sunday and was the superglue that held it together. The second-most-used player was Maro Nanji, who played backup to Guy and Cooke and threw down marvelously alongside Lang and Wylde, plus he sang a pretty solid “Hey Joe,” too.
Zakk Wylde showing the crowd how long his guitar cord is. / Adam Grim