By Matt Dolloff (@mattdolloff)
Jimi Hendrix is unquestionably one of the very greatest guitarists of all time, if not THE best. He will always be revered and respected as one of the best in the studio, using both playing and recording techniques that are imitated to this day, yet never done with the flair and panache that Jimi had.
Despite Jimi’s sterling sound on records, he also had a hard-earned reputation for amazing live performances, and you’ll see in these top 10 videos that it was completely justified. He not only shredded the guitar with the best of them, he had an electrifying stage presence too.
You’ll see in clips like “Machine Gun” that he can take a guitar solo and turn it into a work of art. You’ll see in “The Star-Spangled Banner” that he can take a well-known piece of music something and make it entirely his own. And you’ll see in his cover of the Troggs’ “Wild Thing” that he can literally set his guitar on fire and not only avert disaster, but turn it into one of music’s most iconic moments.
10. “Fire” – Maui, 1970
This is one of Jimi’s last documented live performances, on the island of Maui in Hawaii. The two songs are very different in terms of sound and feel, so it was an interesting choice for Jimi to string them together.
9. “Little Wing” – London, 1969
Funny, this concert at Royal Albert Hall in London is a very famous one, but it might not even be in the top 5 Hendrix concerts of all time. This rare live version of “Little Wing,” however, is a particularly good showcase for Hendrix’s unparalleled skills and stage presence.
8. “The Star-Spangled Banner” – Woodstock, 1969
No list of live Hendrix would be complete without this gem of a performance at the legendary first Woodstock Festival. Jimi closed out the festivities with his own rendition of our national anthem, which includes some in-between soloing of his own – perhaps intended to simulate war sounds as the country was at the time deeply entrenched in the Vietnam War.
7. “Like a Rolling Stone” – San Francisco, 1968
Jimi topped Bob Dylan with his cover of “All Along the Watchtower,” but did he also top him with this? It’s hard to say anyone could do “Like a Rolling Stone” better than Dylan himself, but Jimi comes damn close.
6. “Red House” – Sweden, 1969
This song was always a big opportunity for Jimi to show off his soloing skills. The solo in this live version is pretty much completely different from the original, but it sounds perfect which is mind-boggling – but understandable to those who realize his genius.
5. “Purple Haze” – Maui, 1970
Jimi’s performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival in California is better known for his iconic burning guitar moment, which he described as a “sacrifice.” But this may be the very best live version of “Purple Haze” we’ll ever see.
4. “Hey Joe” – California, 1967
Just like he killed it on “Purple Haze,” Jimi also nailed “Hey Joe” during his set at Monterey. The improvised solo is arguably better than the studio version!
3. “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” – Stockholm, 1970
The studio version of “Voodoo Chile” is impressive enough. But to take it to another level in recreating the sound and adding extra details is the stuff of legend. And Jimi clearly is one.
2. “Wild Thing” – California, 1967
This performance is Hendrix’s most iconic and famous, but not quite the greatest overall. It would be hard to award that to a cover of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” but the burning guitar at the end just makes it.
1. “Machine Gun” – Copenhagen, 1970
The greatest singular example of Hendrix’s music as an art form. He dedicated himself completely to the guitar and making beautiful music, and this particular one is probably more poignant than beautiful.
What makes “Machine Gun” an all-time classic live song is all the little sonic details Jimi incorporates into it.
The blues licks are undeniably great, but what brings it to another level is the dive-bombing, pick-scratching and other noises that simulate the horrors of warfare. Nobody had ever drawn so much raw emotion and deep thoughts from a guitar before, and nobody has since.
Do you agree with the Top 10? Did we leave your favorite performance out? Share your thoughts in the comments.