Written by Fantasma el Rey
Jimi Hendrix, today the name is known far and wide, but back in early 1967 that wasn’t the case at all. The name “Jimi Hendrix” was whispered among the rock underground and barely few had seen or heard him before he left the states for England. It was there that he perfected his craft and image, waiting for a triumphant homecoming. The groundbreaking Monterey Pop Festival would be the vehicle for his return to the shores of the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll.
The Monterey Pop Festival was a first itself in many ways. For the first time a variety of rock and pop bands would be brought together for a three-day extravaganza. From pop hit-makers like The Mamas and The Papas, folkies Simon and Garfunkel to hard rockers such as The Who and Hendrix himself, all would be in the spotlight of the same showcase. Music was played to the crowd over loudspeakers to keep the vibe going as the stage crew set up the next act, the fact that one could hear the music being played and the bands themselves clearly was a first for many of the performers. Rock acts became used to venues with bad sound equipment as most places still took these bands and their music lightly and looked at them as teenage nonsense.
Many of the bands on the line-up that weekend would hold lasting fame and be considered among rock’s best. Yet Jimi Hendrix would become something more, something eternal and earth moving. He was on the verge of changing rock music and becoming a legend. Jimi followed The Who at Monterey and was well aware of their climactic stage destruction, so he had to pull out all the stops to make his performance stand above all others. And to accomplish this, he knew that a sacrifice must be made.
After shaking the crowd with covers of “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Rock Me Baby,” the blues classic “Killing Floor” and his take on “Hey Joe,” Jimi hit ‘em hard with his self-penned gems, burning the speakers with “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Foxey Lady” and “Purple Haze.” The entire time displaying his guitar mastery, playing on his knees, with his teeth, and behind his back with ease. Jimi made it all look so easy while the Experience set the stage smoking with Mitch Mitchell’s fast and thunder-loud drum kicks and Noel Redding’s groovy bass licks.
Yet Jimi felt that even this was not enough. So in loving tribute to the crowd and the rock gods he offered up the thing he loved most and the one thing that he would forever be identified with, his guitar. As the band ran through the rock anthem “Wild Thing,” Jimi made love to his guitar one last time before gently laying it on the stage and stepping off. He returned with lighter fluid and began to douse his guitar in it. Giving the instrument one last look, he struck a match and lit his beloved on fire, watching it burn for a while from his knees and coaxing the flames to dance higher. Next, Jimi raised her over his head and began to bring her down hard, again and again, smashing her into the stage with the fury of a lover gone wild with desire. A desire to transcend the moment and reach into the future giving himself to the world like a god on high while stunning the crowd and giving birth to his legend.
This performance was all caught on film and is now available combined with the documentary American Landing, which features good interviews with people who knew Jimi and were there that night in Monterey, California. The documentary is about 30 minutes long and bookends the footage of Jimi’s sacrifice at Monterey perfectly. Bonus features include the ability to watch the whole show from multiple angles and giving the option of watching just the live portion, making the DVD all the better. There is also some black and white footage of “Stone Free” and “Like A Rolling Stone” from a London concert.
Combining the documentary with Jimi’s classic performance makes for an extremely entertaining and informative watch, music and history are blended together perfectly. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live At Monterey is more than footage of a legend or a damn good DVD, it’s a document of the time and place that music changed and would never be the same. Many would and do imitate Jimi’s style and sound but very few can get away with adding to the guitar style that Jimi Hendrix mastered and will always be known for.