LIVE: Vernon Reid Reimagines Jimi @ The Egg, 11/01/2019
If Jimi Hendrix had kicked his drug habit and lived another half century, what would he sound like? Vernon Reid’s Band of Gypsies Revisited Band performance at The Egg on November 1st went a long way toward answering that question technically but made no attempt to capture the hypnotizing vibe that made Jimi such a fascinating enigma. Copy bands like The Dark Star Orchestra who copy note for note specific Grateful Dead performances are the yin to Vernon’s yang. The Band of Gypsies Revisited’s show was more a loose jam than a concert.
Vernon calls his band’s show an “exploration,” not a “recreation” of Jimi’s Band of Gypsies live recording of his Fillmore East December 31st, 1969 and January 1st, 1970 shows at the Fillmore East. If one jumped to the conclusion that this band was going to cover all or most of the songs on that album, they were in for a surprise at The Egg. The first of two sets extrapolated rather than covered Jimi’s earlier songs including “Little Wing” and “The Wind Whispers Mary.”
Vernon answered a logical question about sharing guitar duties with Andre ‘Dre Glo” Lassalle. (Jimi was the only guitarist in his various power trios.) Andre, Vernon explained, is a childhood friend. The interplay between the two was amazing. And it says something about Jimi’s dynamics that there is enough variety in his compositions to inspire two guitarists whose credits together include Vernon’s work with Living Colour (his best known band), Mick Jagger, Ginger Baker, and James Blood Ulmer, and Andre’s stints with Miles Davis, John Schofield, Huey Lewis, Melvin Sparks, and Michael Hampton of Parliament-Funkadelic.
The second set inspired by Jimi’s Fillmore performances climaxed with a long extrapolation on “Machine Gun” and came closest to capturing Jimi’s staccato energy with drummer James “Biscuit” Rouse demonstrating almost as much personality as Vernon in his vocals, hard driving percussion and a larger than life visual presence including a t-shirt that bragged about his expertise in sarcasm. Bassist Jared Michael Nickerson was stoic and the most grounded of the group.
In one of several long and disjointed “discussions’ with the audience between songs, Vernon explained that his often-wandering improvisations were, like Jimi’s, “wrong in the right direction,” and he reminded us that Jimi never did any of his songs the same way twice.
So many of the thousands of covers I’ve heard of iconic Jimi material turn his flights of fluid fantasy into cement. Vernon didn’t do that, but neither did he capture the mystic dreamlike quality of a man whose Messianic extension of the electric guitar’s fundamental capabilities took his audience into space. And regardless of The Band of Gypsies Revisited’s extraordinary credentials and capabilities, they never quite captured the mystique of a genius who was not of this planet.
Note: Nippertown has two reviews of this show. You can also read J Hunter’s perspective.