Jimi Hendrix - Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69 album review

Debut Band Of Gypsys concert released in full for first time

Jimi Hendrix Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69 album cover

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The Band Of Gypsys album was met with sniffy reviews at first, but since Hendrix’s death nine months later it has been rehabilitated as one of the most important live releases extant.

Recorded at the Fillmore East in New York on New Year’s Day 1970, it was facilitated by the previous night’s warm-up shows, the first of which is revealed here. Hendrix kisses goodbye to the 60s with drive and drama, arguably inventing a new breed of funk rock as an afterthought.

With The Experience no more, bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles encouraged a fusion of soul tinges with the guitarist’s penchant for harder riffs and improvised jamming. What then confused critics now sounds perfectly reasonable; in fact the rhythm section seems mildly conservative for Jimi’s filigreed, fired-up flights. Once again, one is left wondering at the range of possibilities Hendrix suggested for his instrument.

It’s an almost entirely fresh set-list, too, with the trio eager to premiere and try out new material. Earth Blues, Ezy Ryder (with impromptu lyrics) and Burning Desire straddle Delta blues and something more exploratory, but the centrepiece, as on Band Of Gypsys, is Machine Gun. At eight minutes, this version of the anti-Vietnam exemplar is just two-thirds the length of the more familiar rendition, and Hendrix isn’t on this night getting his feedback and effects on to the same degree. It’s still a riot, pulsing and racing. Its bullets still knock you to the ground. Essential for fans of the electric laureate.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.