A small, unpretentious rock documentary, JIMI PLAYS BERKELEY sets the stage with a gratuitous slam at WOODSTOCK (1970), showing picketers protesting that a movie made "by the people" should not be shown at the exorbitant price of $3.50.
On Memorial Day of 1970, Jimi Hendrix arrives at the 3400-seat Berkeley Community Theater in California. He is seen running through a soundcheck with his band; this fades into "Johnny B. Goode" from the show later that night. Brief footage of contemporary Berkeley protestors and protestees is
shown accompanying some of the ensuing music.
Hendrix's career was in professional flux at this point. His management team had splintered, with Michael Jefferey (the film's executive producer) taking the reins. The original Jimi Hendrix Experience had run aground, followed by the Band of Gypsys. He was tired of playing the same old hits,
leery of his management that wanted him to do so, anxious to stretch and try something new, like a proposed collaboration with jazz composer Gil Evans. The band that played this tour consisted of the drummer from the Experience, Mitch Mitchell, and the bass player of the Gypsys, Billy Cox--an old
army buddy whose performances were solid, if somewhat staid. (They also played on the recordings for the double album, First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, left incomplete at Hendrix's death, and released abridged as The Cry Of Love.) The film's sound mix (done at Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios by
his longtime engineer Eddie Kramer) naturally favors crisp guitar and vocals, with bass rather muddy and drums almost inaudible.
The scenes of vehicles being tipped over, advancing nightstick-wielding cops in gas masks, street violence amidst clouds of tear gas (lensed by a different cameraman) add context to Hendrix's brief, fuzzy between-song commentary on love and togetherness. They also point out that the documentary
itself isn't particularly well filmed, with shaky handheld camerawork drifting in and out of focus. A nice early shot pans across the floor as the band plays: Cox tapping his toes, Mitchell stomping his drum pedals, ending on Hendrix on a Vox wah-wah pedal as he redefines with his feet what a
guitar should sound like. Even in this mediocre (for him) performance, it's still a joy to watch Hendrix utilizing his arsenal of techniques to invent a musical vocabulary (not to mention a visual style) from which so much subsequent music has borrowed. Yes, he plays with his teeth. No, he doesn't
crash and burn his guitar. Less than four months later, Hendrix would be dead. (Violence.)
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- Released: 1972
- Review: A small, unpretentious rock documentary, JIMI PLAYS BERKELEY sets the stage with a gratuitous slam at WOODSTOCK (1970), showing picketers protesting that a movie made "by the people" should not be shown at the exorbitant price of $3.50. On Memorial Day of… (more)