Oct 29 2010

One by one some of rock’s best known guitarists dazzled Thursday evening at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts as part of a tribute concert to the iconic Jimi Hendrix.

But despite all their mastery for over 150 minutes, the most startling aspect during Experience Hendrix was realizing just how damn easy and effortless the man being honored made such intricate, jaw-dropping solos look.

Regardless, the 24-song concert featured a solid lineup with Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford, Robert Randolph, Los Lobos, Steve Vai and Living Colour. Think of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival on wheels and you get an idea of the talent here.

Yet one of the big treats was watching bassist Billy Cox kick things off with Stone Free and Message Of Love alongside guitarist Ernie Isley and drummer Chris Layton. Cox, who performed with Hendrix in The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys, was quite strong despite only playing a fraction of the evening.

Then again the same could be said of most of the talent outside of Living Colour, who primarily acted as the house band when not delivering Power Of Soul and Crosstown Traffic. Generally each artist had three or four songs to shine, with many receiving a rousing ovation from the near capacity, age-spanning crowd.

With no video backdrop and the lone image of Hendrix on Layton’s kick drum, many of the guitarists simply relied on their chops. Eric Johnson brought a fine batch of Texas-inspired blues to Burning Of The Midnight Lamp before the opening notes of Are You Experienced? earned cheers from the audience.

Probably the biggest highlights came from two of the younger guitarists on the bill in Lang and Shepherd, both reaching the same stellar results despite going about it slightly differently. Lang – accompanied by Whitford who primarily played rhythm guitar – was strong on the rampant Fire and the slower, blues feel of The Wind Cries Mary. His soulful and yet frantic work on Spanish Castle Magic was simply magical.

Carrying that momentum was Shepherd. Although I Don’t Live Today and Come On (Let The Good Times Roll) came off a bit ordinary, it was the combination of Voodoo Chile Blues with Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) that stole the show. Here Shepherd was a showman, playing behind his head, playing the neck with one hand and working the stage throughout the two bluesy, psychedelic-tinged numbers.

Elsewhere, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas (the lone left-handed player a la Hendrix on stage) were a bit more subdued with Can You See Me and Little Wing while slide guitarist Robert Randolph, Cox and The Slide Brothers polished off Changes. Randolph also worked his way through Purple Haze without going over-the-top.

While Steve Vai was the last big name to emerge, his playing didn’t seem to have that certain spark found in Lang and Shepherd. Vai’s finest moment was during the sweet, soothing ballad May This Be Love (Waterfall).

After oddly closing with Red House (and no performance of Hey Joe or Manic Depression), Cox pointed to his watch before a final group bow, leaving most with an experience they won’t soon forget.

From the Toronto Sun