When Jimi Hendrix died 44 years ago, the notion of the U.S. Postal Service honoring him with a stamp would’ve been laughable, but having MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer lead the official celebration would’ve been unthinkable. Yet there he was on a crisp Thursday night for a free SXSW concert in Butler Park, leading the charge with an American flag guitar.
The tribute had the air of a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction with all the ups and downs that implies. A portent of this trajectory occurred when a giant banner of the Hendrix stamp fell to the stage floor almost immediately after it was raised. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of guitar firepower ensured a fair number of highlights.
The evening began with Lucinda Williams delivering a simple, soulful reading of “Angel” on acoustic guitar. Dave Alvin and his Blasters brother Phil Alvin convincingly laid into Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.”
Mary Bridget Davies from the musical Cry Baby channeled Janis Joplin with passion, though this had the side effect of angling the proceedings toward hermetically sealed homage. While Coup’s Boots Riley effectively integrated rap into the Kramer-led cacophony, Jesse Malin missed the mark with “If 6 Was 9” by overcharging the sentiment with excess swagger (see photo gallery).
Big guns Slash and the Doors’ Robby Krieger turned up the heat on “Red House” before Vintage Trouble vocalist Ty Taylor imbued “Fire” with the spirit of the Wicked Pickett. As Kramer and the whole six-stringed company ended with “Star Spangled Banner,” the stamp banner was slowly but surely hoisted back to its rightful place.
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