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Australian Guitar Magazine competitions are out of this world and our winners are the legends of the rock realm. Tony Hastings was one of the lucky winners to attend Experience Jimi Hendrix on Friday 14th June 2013 at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, and by the sounds of his review I think it is safe to say it was the EXPERIENCE of a lifetime.

14th June 2013

Thanks to Australian Guitar Magazine, I won a couple of tickets to see Experience Jimi Hendrix at The Palms at Crown (Melbourne), Friday 14th June, and a copy of “People Hell and Angels” a new Jimi Hendrix CD.

“Finally getting into the venue was like finding the treasure at the end of a maze,” laughed my mate Craig Seamer. After a 600km drive to Melbourne, we were challenged to find The Palms Crown, find a car park entrance, find a vacant space, find the lift to get out of the car park, and then find the venue inside the massive complex.

It was hilarious; we met up with other Hendrix fans in our quest, who confidently managed to lead us back into the car park. Even more lost than us were some Hawthorn fans, who asked if we knew where the footy was on! Joking about the adventure later, a punter commented “that’s nothing; just wait till you try and find your car afterwards!"

The tickets were for some prime seats, which we accessorised with some severely overpriced bourbon, and then James Christowski made it all worthwhile as he opened the set with a stunning rendition of “Little Wing.” I thought it must have been daunting for the teenager, playing before a room that’s probably full of guitarists critically analysing his technique.

James said “not at all; I was focused on the song, the music, that’s what it’s all about.” Drummer Johnny Salerno and bass player Chris Bekker remained on stage as each of the 10 guitarists seamlessly took their turn to blow us away with their renditions of various Hendrix songs.

When I asked Johnny if he’d been studying Mitch Mitchell’s style, he said he’d “been listening to nothing but Hendrix for three weeks” as preparation. Amazingly, they had just one rehearsal before the gig. The songs were chosen well in advance, and at the rehearsal the song structure was discussed, with various cues agreed on. For example Phil might tap his head to indicate go to the head of the song. “We’re all used to do things on the fly,” Jimi Hocking explained. “You need to have good communication skills musically. You have to have good people, especially the rhythm section, because they have to pick up on everybody’s signals and visual cues.”

Simon Hosford joked “If you rehearse a lot, you feel better on the night. Where-as if there’s less, you go; great we don’t have to rehearse! But then on the night you go; gee I hope it goes alright…”

Although the headline act was Kevin Borich, you couldn’t put any one of the guys above any other; they all shone with amazing, flawless performances. During the all-star jam, Phil Ceberano lifted the game to some of that shredding, tapping virtuosity, which Stuart Fraser followed with an absolutely perfect impersonation of some Hendrix wah phrasing. Phil pointed and nodded, as we all agreed he had nailed it, and celebrating that Hendrix sound was what it was all about.

The song I enjoyed most was Jimi Hocking and the band’s take on "Highway Chile", which they played with an infectious groove. I’d go as far as saying it was even better than any of Hendrix’s recordings of the song.

Looking around at the audience, it seemed that Hendrix fans have evolved from being long-haired hippies in flares, to respectable looking men with shiny heads. Phil Ceberano admitted to having turned 50 and asked the audience “any of you 50?” About half of the crowd replied “yes!”

The show production was outstanding, in that the sound mix was perfect, and the volume was just right; loud, but not enough to give us all industrial deafness. The lighting used modern projectors to create an animated backdrop, with appropriate vintage theme and relevant colour for each song. However, the audience sat through the gig instead of boogying on down at the front, as you’d expect at a rock gig. As Phil commented, “this place is just too clean, too polished, and too nice.” After coaxing an audience member to his feet, Phil glanced at the set list and realised the next song was Wind Cries Mary, a ballad. “You,” he pointed at the guy, “sit the fuck down!”

The gig was any guitar gear-head’s dream, with a line-up of amps across the stage, a spray of pedal boards across the floor, and an impressive variety of guitars used on stage. Geoff Wells appeared to use the most authentic gear, with a vintage Strat that had been so well used, that most of the varnish had worn off the top edge.

Kevin Borich’s sound was HUGE. His guitar tech of 30 years explained he replaced the trays of individual pedals with one massive, complicated “TCE” unit (TC Electronic Nova System). “He spent 2 days in his garage learning it.”

The show’s final song was the all-star jam medley, which was surprisingly short and well scripted. You’d imagine that ten guitarists on stage would go on for a bit, possibly outlasting the audience. Jimi Hocking’s comment may explain it, “we’re having so much fun backstage,” he quipped, “I had to quickly get my clothes back on and come up here.”

Thanks to Palm’s Manager Ken and the Media Pass from Australian Guitar Mag, we were able to go backstage after the gig and meet some of the guys. I guess Kevin has hidden away in the debaucherous band room, but most of the stars were loitering in the corridor. They were all very friendly, easy going, and down to earth.

Jimi Hocking said, “It was great fun, and a great little micro-social event for us too. By this stage of the game, everyone knows each other, and everyone likes each other. If you’re still around, you know you’re not getting too rich, but you’re here because you like playing and you like music.”

The Experience Jimi Hendrix show succeeded in giving us all a taste of what it would have been like to hear Hendrix live. It paid appropriate homage to the man and his music, and perhaps more importantly, turned the focus to our own living legends.

Jimi Hocking enthused, “Kevin’s my hero, since I was a young guy coming on to the scene. I’m always reminding him; you’re my hero, you know that don’t ya? It’s been 30 something years now, and you’re still my hero”.