"Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock"

Reexperience "The Star-Spangled Banner" and more in this hourlong document of one of the greatest-ever live performances.

Published July 12, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock"
Edited by Chris Hegedus and Erez Laufer
MCA; full frame
Extras: None

As incredible a document as it is, Michael Wadleigh's three-hour epic "Woodstock" contains too much of some bad things (a little of that Ten Years After goes a long way) and not enough of some very good things. "Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock," consisting of footage shot by Wadleigh's team at the festival, much of it not shown in "Woodstock" and not previously available, goes a long way toward redressing one of those wrongs. The 57 minutes of performances -- in which Hendrix and the Band of Gypsies (making their debut) appear so relaxed and loose you can almost forget they're playing to a small city's worth of people -- is mesmerizing for guitar wankers and Hendrix nerds alike.

One of the great pleasures of "Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock" -- compiled by editors Chris Hegedus (co-director of "The War Room") and Erez Laufer -- is being able to simply drink in the man's presence: He's charismatic and impossibly beautiful, with an understated physical grace that few contemporary musicians have even come close to matching. And he's funny, too, perhaps unintentionally so. In the segue between "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" and "The Star-Spangled Banner," he tells the crowd, "You can leave if you want, we're just jamming, that's all." It doesn't look as if he has sensed restlessness in the crowd; he's just being almost inexplicably polite, knowing that many, if not most, of them had been hanging around for several days before he, as Woodstock's closing act, had even taken the stage.

And even though Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner" is, of course, included in the full-length "Woodstock," for Hendrix fans there's something nice about having the performance preserved in one easy-to-access place, particularly since the focus here is on the music more than the scene. ("Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock" contains a bit of footage of the Woodstock crowd for color, but far fewer floppy breasts than does Wadleigh's film.)

The DVD and the VHS version are companions to a recently released two-CD set culled from the show, which is far more comprehensive. (And the DVD, disappointingly, includes nothing in the way of extras or liner notes.) But as a visual record, "Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock" is still invaluable. And even if you've seen it dozens of times before -- and maybe even if you were there -- there's something inescapably touching about the Woodstock "Star-Spangled Banner." Bruised, fractured and beautiful, it springs directly from the tradition of call and response: Hendrix frames his phrases like elegant question marks hanging in the air, but their corresponding responses, some of them molten and mournful, others jagged and impatient, can't even begin to answer. The piece is a meditation on uncertainty that's anything but uncertain.

By Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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