Songs for Groovy Children: The Fillmore East Concerts isn’t the first album—or even the second, third, or fourth—to result from Jimi Hendrix’s four-set engagement at the New York venue on Dec. 31, 1969 and Jan. 1, 1970. Band of Gypsys, which came out only a few months after the shows, whetted appetites with six tracks. Then came Band of Gypsys 2 (1986), which included three more numbers (all of which also surfaced as bonus tracks on a 1991 Japanese and European version of the original album). The Fillmore East Concerts, a two-CD 1999 set, culled 16 performances from all four sets; and, in 2016, we got Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show, which delivered all 11 tracks from the initial New Year’s Eve set.
Now, almost half a century after the concerts took place, we finally have the whole enchilada. (Well, almost: the recordings of a few numbers from the second New Year’s Eve set had technical problems and were deemed not releasable.) This five-CD (or eight-LP), 43-song box features a new mix and no edits and presents all of its material in the order that Hendrix and his band originally performed it. The package incorporates eight performances that have never before been issued in any form; three that had been available only as part of a concert film; 12 that are back in print on CD and LP for the first time in a decade; and another four that represent longer, unedited versions of previously released material.
The material fully justifies the multiple releases, including this comprehensive new set. Hendrix was at a turning point when he gave these concerts with the recently formed Band of Gypsys, which found former bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell replaced by Billy Cox and Buddy Miles, respectively. The Fillmore shows were the new group’s first live gigs, and they produced the first and only concert LP authorized by Hendrix during his lifetime.
The sets include a few nods to earlier material, including one performance each of “Fire,” “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” and “Wild Thing,” and two explorations of “Foxey Lady.” The guitarist also celebrates the arrival of 1970 with a version of “Auld Lang Syne” in his inimitable style. For the most part, though, these performances focus on new Hendrix material, including “Machine Gun,” “Message of Love,” “Power of Soul,” and “Stone Free,” as well as two tracks by Buddy Miles that feature him on lead vocal: “Changes” and “We Gotta Live Together.”
This music is less jazz influenced, less psychedelic, and less melodic than earlier releases; instead, it offers large doses of funk and soul. But as on prior LPs, Hendrix’s guitar pyrotechnics rarely leave the spotlight. He works wonders with his instrument throughout, and absolutely dazzles on tracks like “Machine Gun” (a highlight of all four sets here), where he coaxes sounds from the instrument that no one had ever quite heard it make before.
You’re more than a little late to catch these historic shows at the Fillmore. But now at least you can hear nearly every note, just as the audiences did nearly 50 years ago.
Rebecca Turner, The New Wrong Way. Rebecca Turner called her 2009 sophomore LP Slowpokes, which may suggest why it took another decade to finalize this third album from the New Jersey–based singer/songwriter. Be that as it may, it was worth the wait for this record, which sounds redolent of early 70s West Coast folk/rock. (Imagine a much more upbeat Judee Sill and you won’t be far off.) Jingle-jangle guitar is predominant in the backup, but there’s also enough pedal steel—and, on one track, banjo—to suggest a penchant for country. The program consists mostly of originals and a few cowrites with introspective lyrics that read like journal entries. Also here: a version of “Tenderly,” the 1940s pop song by Walter Gross and Jack Lawrence; and “Sun in My Morning,” a sweet cover of an obscure but lovable Bee Gees B-side.
Modern English, Mesh & Lace and After the Snow. When “I Melt with You” showed up recently in the soundtrack of HBO’s The Deuce, it served as a reminder that the track—which combines an insistent beat, swirling synthesizer sounds, and a compelling vocal by Robby Grey—ranks among the greatest power-pop singles of its decade. Now the album from which it came, 1982’s After the Snow, and its predecessor, 1981’s Mesh & Lace, have been remastered and reissued with bonus tracks. Though nothing on either disc quite equals the achievement of “I Melt with You,” there are noteworthy numbers on both CDs, and especially on After the Snow, which finds Modern English retaining their new-wave edginess while also flirting with a more melodic, radio-friendly sound.
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.