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50 Greatest Concerts 1959-2009: Part Three (Throwback Thursday)

September 04, 2014


4. Jim Hendrix, Woodstock Music and Art Fair, Bethel, N.Y., August 18, 1969
Pete Townshend, Jerry Garcia, Alvin Lee, Jorma Kaukonen, Barry Melton, Johnny Winter. There were a lot of pretty good guitarists at Woodstock but Jimi Hendrix outgunned them all, style for style, during his two-hour closing set on what was officially the morning after the festival was supposed to have ended. Fronting an under-rehearsed new sextet called Gypsy Sun and Rainbows (a.k.a. Band of Gypsies), Woodstock’s highest-paid performer ($18,000) played to a tired, bedraggled and greatly diminished audience from about 9 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. The Gypsies’ set consisted of familiar Jimi Hendrix Experience standards – including “Fire,” “Red House,” and “Hey Joe” – with jams that veered from tired to inspired. Despite having pulled an all-nighter, Hendrix still looked extremely cool in his white fringed vest, gold necklace, turquoise jeans and fuchsia tie-dye headband. Thanks mainly to the Woodstock movie, everything else Hendrix played that morning was eclipsed, at least in retrospect, by his four-minute expressionist freak-out take on an old English drinking song retrofitted as our national anthem. Segueing out of “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” the former paratrooper (and Vietnam fence sitter) employed wah-wah peddle, wammy bar, pickup toggle switching and liberal feedback to create a thrillingly literal reinterpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (with a “Taps” tease) before launching into a by-the-numbers “Purple Haze.” It was as political as you wanted it to be – or not. It hinted at the jazzy new direction Hendrix was claiming he wanted to take his music. And a year later he would be gone. Richard Gehr

3. Bob Dylan, Newport Folk Festival, Newport, R.I., July 7, 1965
In John Ford’s 1962 western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, one of the characters utters the memorable line, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” The legend of Bob Dylan’s first appearance backed by electrified instruments almost immediately achieved legendary status – perhaps best represented in Todd Haynes’s 2007 Dylan fantasy biopic I’m Not There, in which the musicians unpack automatic weapons from their instrument cases and open fire on the outraged audience. As for the facts? Well, even those who were there on that summer evening in 1965 disagree. Were people booing because they were furious at seeing folk music’s golden boy “sell out” to rock and roll? Or because the sound mix was bad? Or because he walked off after playing only three songs? Or were they even booing at all? And why was anyone shocked by the band, anyway, when Dylan had already had a hit with the Chuck Berry-style boogie “Subterranean Homesick Blues?” But none of that mattered. The legend of Newport became fact almost instantly. On Dylan’s subsequent tour, people starting coming to the shows with the express purpose of booing. Things got so heated that drummer Levon Helm bailed after a few dates, afraid that things would turn violent. But after Newport, there could be no turning back. Dylan’s revolutionary fusion of mystic, heightened language and jukebox-blues amplification had turned pop music upside down; folk poetry and rock energy were now allies, not enemies, whether purists in either camp liked it or not. “The significance of many watershed events is apparent only in retrospect,” wrote producer Joe Boyd, who was the stage manager on that notorious, historic night in Newport. “This was clear at the time.” Alan Light

2. The Beatles, Ed Sullivan Theater, New York, N.Y., February 2, 1964
The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 was one of those undeniable watershed events in our shared cultural history. The response was unprecedented with viewership that was the largest in American TV history up to that point. More importantly, it was the official beginning of the British Invasion and a real turning point in rock and roll history. Elvis had been away in the Army, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and other pioneers had died tragically or gone silent. This led many to believe that this revolutionary format of music was a thing of the past. The Beatles’ performance turned the world and this state of mind upside down. Their sound, how they dressed, the length of their hair and their UK origins catalyzed the youth of America and catapulted us all into a sea change that reinvigorated rock and roll and helped ensure that this music would become the dominant art form of our lives. Terry Stewart, President of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

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