Experience Hendrix in Cincinnati
Zakk Wylde stood at the edge of the balcony, guitar behind his head as he neared the climax of his 15-minute solo during “Little Wing.”
Wylde’s guitar cord, meanwhile, snaked down the balcony stairway, through the audience below and up to one of the many, many Marshall amps that lined the stage where drummer Chris Layton (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble) and bassist Kevin McCormick held sway. This was toward the end of Wylde’s mini-set during the Cincinnati stop of the 2019 Experience Hendrix tour at the Taft Theatre. And Wylde, who had many Black Label Society partisans in the audience, proceeded to win over nearly everyone else with a 40-minute showcase that found him playing among the audience and with his teeth as he ripped through Jimi Hendrix’s arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” It was spellbinding, even if sat times he seemed to play notes for the sake of playing notes.
Wylde was one on a long A-list of guitarists–Joe Satraini, Megadeath’s Dave Mustaine, Jonny Lang, Dweezil Zappa, Eric Johnson, Doyle Bramhall II, Mato Nanji, the Slide Brothers and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas–who paid tribute to the late, left-handed master of the Stratocaster with a more-than-three-hour extravaganza that also featured Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys’ alum Billy Cox, Kings X bassist Doug Pinnick, singer/emcee Henri Brown and drummer Kenny Arnoff.
Preceding Wylde in the concert’s first half, Johnson was a monster, playing with Zappa on “Bold as Love,” but mostly alone with the rhythm section and handling all guitar parts adeptly on tracks such as “Power of Soul” and the scratchy, psychedelic “Are You Experienced?” His was an eye- and ear-opening performance that proved subtlety is essential, even on songs by the world’s least-subtle guitarist.
Cox and Zappa kicked things off just before the 7 p.m. ticket time and launched into “Freedom.” At 79, Cox remains in fine voice and seemed happy to be playing under a large screen that toggled between candid and on-stage shots of the man of the (three) hour(s and 20 minutes) and drippy images straight out of the 1960s and the outer reaches of the mind. The veteran bassist stuck around for the “Foxy Lady” that followed and was sung by Brown before disappearing until late in the second set and ceding his place to McCormick.
Throughout both halves, Indigenous guitarist Nanji was on and off stage, rarely singing and instead focusing on his axe and sparring with the better-known guitarists that accompanied him onstage.
Bramhall II kicked off set II in a trio format with Layton and McCormick and with his left-handed swagger lent auspiciousness to numbers including “Let the Good Times Roll” and “Angel.”
Lang–toting the only acoustic guitar to be seen during the evening–emerged next for a version of “All Along the Watchtower” that owed more to Dave Mason’s arrangement than to Hendrix’s.
As the show neared the end, a whole new band, Satriani, Arnoff and Pinnick, took the stage for 30 minutes of some of Hendrix’s most out-there tracks, including “Manic Depression” and “If Six was Nine.” Too long by about half, this was nevertheless a chance for Pinnick to impress with his vocals and Satriani, like Wylde hours earlier, to play with his teeth.
For the finale, Cox re-emerged with Hidalgo and Rosas for a slow-burning “Red House” before the entire crew came out to take a bow.