The Experience Hendrix tour sauntered into the historic Riverside Theater in Milwaukee on March 16 for a mind-melting evening of live music. Performing without an opening act, the show featured guitarists from multiple genres that included Zakk Wylde, Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Buddy Guy, Brad Whitford and Jonny Lang to name a few.
Bringing together a wealth of musical talent, the Experience Hendrix tour is a whirlwind of live music as a tribute to the late, great Jimi Hendrix. Centered around the last surviving member of Hendrix's entourage, bassist Billy Cox, the show constantly changes as members rotate in to perform classic songs from Jimi Hendrix Experience, Band of Gypsies and other artists that might have influenced the guitar legend.
The show began with "Stone Free" with Cox on bass and vocals while Eric Gale joined in on guitar. Double Trouble's Chris Layton was the only constant on the night, keeping the timing on drums while the jam session played out. Dweezil Zappa soon joined in for "Freedom."
Moods constantly shifted despite the majority of the original arrangements being composed by one man. As each guitarist took the stage, the interpretation shifted. Eric Johnson on "Are You Experienced?" and "May This Be Love" was vastly different than Zakk Wylde's metal-infused take on "Purple Haze." The latter included a lengthy and razor-sharp guitar solo that brought a standing ovation from the overwhelmed crowd. Something that would be repeated through the course of the night as each artist showcased their immense talents.
Starting just after 8 p.m., the show featured roughly 25 songs that were performed over the course of three and a half hours, not including a 15-minute intermission near the midpoint. The show resumed with Doyle Bramhall performing "Hear My Train a Comin'" on acoustic guitar. He switched to electric for "Angel," with ultra-clean riffs that were a mellow contrast to Wylde's blistering play.
Los Lobos Cesar Rosas and David Hildago took their turn for "Can You See Me" and "Little Wing." Brad Whitford, Jonny Lang and Wylde returned for "All Along the Watchtower" then Wylde departed, leaving Lang and Whitford to perform "The Wind Cries Mary" and "Bold as Love." Some songs broke into jam sessions but the flow was always fluid.
If one artist truly channeled Hendrix on the night it was Kenny Wayne Shepherd. His spiritual play on "Voodoo Chile" and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" was a blue-heavy, virtuoso performance that oozed emotion. It was nearly impossible to pick a favorite performance of the evening, but Shepherd's play was simply phenomenal.
Buddy Guy closed out the night, speaking about Hendrix's influences. It was an interesting twist considering the rest of the show demonstrated the enormous influence that Hendrix had on every other performer. Guy spoke about Hendrix as one of his contemporaries, one who saw the star rise and develop.
Another show is scheduled for the Riverside Theater on April 4. It has long been sold-out but this event is worth acquiring a ticket via third-party channels, or check other tour dates and make a long weekend somewhere coincident with another date. Given how the show played out, akin to several artists taking turns painting a replica masterpiece, no two shows should be alike. This tour is not to be missed.