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    Friday, May 24, 2024

    Hendrix Looms Large at Kate Show

    The Specter of Hendrix Looms Large at Kate Show

    “Come the hell on, man. That’s not even fair!”

    *Proceeds to throw drumsticks and dreams of being a guitar player in the waste bin

    “Welp, I better go find a new hobby ’cause clearly, this one ain’t working out for me.”

    There’s really too much I can say about the spectacular performances I saw on Sunday, Feb. 25, as would be natural for someone like me. To save everyone from just how much of a garrulous character I can turn into when the subject of great music comes up, I will try to keep my thoughts in this piece as concise as I can.

    Here is what I can confidently say: the specter of one American icon loomed over the celebratory space of another when Artur Menezes and Eric Gales performed at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center on Feb. 25, while the eyes of Mr. James Marshall Hendrix were watching from his cosmic resting place.

    When Menezes took the stage to open for Gales, the Brazilian blues guitarist expressed an open appreciation for the demigod Hendrix (as Life Magazine refreshingly referred to the virtuoso in 1969 compared to more racialized evaluations of the day) by means of the atmosphere he demanded of his guitar. The ethereal tones of Hendrix were in strong preference to the technical dimension of playing, which is not to say Menezes was lacking in that department. He showed just how proficient of an electric blues player he was when he stood onstage with Gales in the closing moments of the latter’s performance, as a guitar battle of sorts ensued between the two players and Gales’ supporting guitarist Trevor McKay.

    Following Menezes’ set came Gales’. Before I get to the blues axeman, I just have to get it out of the way that it was difficult for me to take my eyes off drummer Nick Hayes. I was making my own ‘drummer face’ in awe of his power and precision, shaking my head at times, wondering how on Earth it was justifiable that a human being could be so good at his instrument. That’s why my sticks are metaphorically in the trash can.

    As far as Gales goes, I really don’t have much to say (as the introverted Hendrix might have agreed) other than he is utterly fantastic. He is a showman and shaman, someone who studied Jimi Hendrix the way jazz guitarist Stephane Wrembel studied Django Reinhardt or drummer Danny Carey studied Neil Peart: they understand the language of their respective instruments and bow down to the divine sons that came before them.

    I will point out just one of many notable moments of his performance. The penultimate song of Gale’s set was a track from his most recent record Grammy-nominated album, Crown, entitled “Too Close to the Fire.” What is at least one part of that song about? I’ll let Gales explain as he did to the outlet American Songwriter two years ago.

    “From my personal experience, I’ve been stopped by the cops before, and it came pretty close to being a terrible situation. For me, that’s too close to the fire. What makes me different from what happened to George Floyd? That’s being too close to the fire.”

    There were two songs “Too Close to the Fire” reminded me of. The first, in spirit of the message, was “If 6 Was a 9” by Hendrix, which features the line, “White-collared conservatives/Flashing down the street/Pointing their plastic finger at me/They’re hoping soon, my kind will drop and die/But I’m going to wav/My freak flag high, high ow!”

    Gales’ rose the flag high in his dirge that saw the climax of the evening with a show-stopping guitar solo that was his “Comfortably Numb” moment. Perhaps that was intentional, given the musical similarities between the two songs, although they are both blues numbers, essentially. Regardless, it received a standing ovation that was the stamp on a fantastic night that seemed to celebrate America.

    In a space dedicated to celebrating one its greatest actresses was the playing of music inextricably linked to its history by a Brazilian guitarist, proving the expansive power of the American art form, and a Black guitarist who spoke and played a message of inclusion and equality. This all occurred under the interplanetary gaze of the mixed-race Hendrix, America’s and the world’s greatest guitar player to ever live; the man who took the blues from the Mississippi Delta to canyons of Mars. If all of that does not represent something remarkable, then I don’t know what else does.

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