Charles Cross reviews "Hear My Train a Comin': The Concert" at EMP, a celebration of Jimi Hendrix and a new exhibit. Among a dozen different guitar players Saturday night, the standout performance came from Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, who played "Little Wing" with the Walking Papers.
To celebrate the opening of its new Jimi Hendrix exhibit, the Experience Music Project held a tribute concert Saturday that featured a dozen different guitar players recreating some of Jimi’s greatest moments. These multi-act tribute shows always have a bit of a circus feel, and Saturday night was no exception, but it still had moments of grandeur.
A rhythm section of Mike Musburger and Jeff Fielder admirably held the framework down for the core of the set, while different guitarists stepped up. High points included Ian Moore’s bluesy take on “Spanish Castle Magic,” Vernon Reid’s “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” and Eric Gales’ funky recasting of “Purple Haze.”
Ernie Isley, the youngest Isley brother, talked about what it was like growing up hearing Jimi jam in his house with his older siblings. Isley played a moving “Manic Depression,” and talked about the honor of participating in a tribute to a man he grew up idolizing.
The musical standout of the night also came from someone who grew up a Hendrix fan: Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. He played “Little Wing” with the Walking Papers (Jefferson Angell, Duff McKagan, and Barrett Martin), a band he guests with often. It was one of the only times all night a true band was onstage, and the tightness between the musicians made the song soar.
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Most of the guitarists on the bill played extended songs, stretching out the guitar solos to show off their skills. But McCready, who talked about how he discovered Jimi from records his dad brought back from Vietnam, knew that Hendrix’s “Little Wing” is perfect at just over two minutes, and it was on Saturday, as well.
The show began with bass player Billy Cox on the first four songs, including a rousing “Stone Free.” Cox met Hendrix when both were in the Army, and a deep friendship formed.
Cox and Hendrix played the Chitlin’ Circuit together of roadhouses and juke joints of the American South, trying to make their mark. They failed, and it would not be until Hendrix hit London — the subject of EMP’s exhibit — when Jimi’s fortune changed.
Cox was living in anonymity in Nashville in 1969 when Hendrix phoned his old friend, and invited him to join his band at Woodstock. The guitar Jimi played at that concert sits in a case in EMP, 50 yards from the stage.
That world famous white Stratocaster — the most valuable guitar in the world — went unplayed all night, guarded behind protective glass and multiple alarms. Yet there were times Saturday when it seemed as if Jimi’s instrument was still talking.