North Charleston Performing Arts Center
On Sunday night, the Experience Hendrix Tour turned the PAC into the Electric Church of Jimi. The tour, featuring a revolving cast of super heavy-weight guitar heroes like Dweezil Zappa, Mato Nanji (of Indigenous), Eric Gales, Robert Randolf, Johnny Lang, Brad Whitford (of Aerosmith), Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and the inimitable Buddy Guy, played to a nearly packed house.
Former Band of Gypsys bassist Billy Cox performed during the opening and closing sets. Drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton (from Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble) kept time through most of the night. It was a tasteful homage and inspired tribute to Hendrix and his immortal music.
Gales and Nanji got things off to a very upbeat start with “Stone Free.” The always fun-loving Cox did a surprisingly great job on vocals. Zappa came out next for “Freedom” but he ran into a slew of technical difficulties and his amp crapped out almost immediately, which was the night’s only hiccup. The amazing fretless bass master Tony Franklin (of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd band) joined Gales and Zappa next, and one of the night’s high points ensued with the improv jam as Zappa tried to get his amp working again.
Gales’ playing pushed things to the next level. Nanji, came back out for “Little Wing” and “Hear My Train a’ Comin’.” He was a shy, humble guy, but he could really play. No one will ever come close to Hendrix, but Nanji’s respectful versions of both tunes were the closest to Jimi’s style the whole night.
The soulful Robert Randolph and his sacred steel elevated the set with a hot cover of “Purple Haze,” which earned a standing ovation. It’s hard to tell what was more infectious: Randolph’s joyful attitude or his technique. He’s got both in spades. Gales and Nanji joined Randolph for a fun reworking of “Foxy Lady.” Cox returned with Buddy Guy’s drummer Tim Austin for “Them Changes” (a popular composition by the late Band of Gyspys drummer Buddy Miles).
The fiery Johnny Lang and Aerosmith veteran Brad Whitford traded licks on an acoustic-based rendition of “All Along the Watchtower” and plugged-in versions of “Fire,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” They closed with a burnin’ take on “Spanish Castle Magic.” Lang’s passion and soulful vocals were high points, as usual, and it was great to see Whitford stretch out and get a chance to rip out some expressive solos.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his vocalist Noah Hunt were up next for “I Don’t Live Today,” “Come On (Part 1),” “Voodoo Chile,” and “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).” Shepherd tends to overplay and get cheesy at times, and he dipped heavily into the Stevie Ray Vaughan bag a bit much, but the dude played his ass off, and the crowd really ate it up. Shepherd provided some of the most intense moments of the night.
The final special guest of the show was blues great Buddy Guy, who looked great at age 75. Randolph, Lang, Nanji, and Shepherd joined Guy for a little bit of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and some unrehearsed, bluesy fun. Guy’s trademark glassy tone was unmistakable from note one. His playing is always fun and full of life, and his carefree personality always steals the show.
Guy remained on stage as an old master while Nanji sang “Hey Joe.” Cox closed the evening singing on “Redhouse.” Everyone came out for a group bow and Guy gave a final touching and heartfelt (and perhaps loose and rambling) farewell and thank you.
It was an inspired night of great energy and incredible playing. Nothing but good vibes filled the PAC. Jimi’s spirit and music could not have been honored more.