Friday, Feb. 14, 2014
Better than: More Hendrix cover bands than you can shake a flaming Stratocaster at.
One might not think that an evening of Jimi Hendrix covers would be a major draw on a romantic holiday like Valentine's. However, the huge line stretching out the front door of Yoshi's in San Francisco last Friday night proved the city has no shortage of couples who feel that Hendrix - much like Virginia - is for lovers. The big crowd was also indicative of the sizable following earned by SF's onetime resident guitar hero Eric McFadden.
The talented musician now lives in Los Angeles, but has built a loyal fan base over the past two decades. In addition to leading an array of bands including Liar, Alien Lovestock, and the Faraway Brothers, he has also served as six-string gunslinger for hire with George Clinton's P-Funk and singer Eric Burdon's modern incarnation of The Animals. For this high-powered Hendrix tribute set, McFadden took the stage with his latest project, the virtuoso power trio T.E.N.
Teamed with volcanic drummer Thomas Pridgen (formerly with The Coup and The Mars Volta) and veteran Fishbone founder/bassist Norwood Fisher, McFadden could not have had a more perfect pair of collaborators to explore the Hendrix catalog. Things heated up right off the bat as the band dove into "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" with the guitarist's howling, wah-wah-fueled solo getting pushed into overdrive by Pridgen's ferocious drum fills.
The fiery take on the classic track set the vibe for much of what followed as Fisher's nimble, rock-solid bass anchored the progressively bolder flights taken by McFadden and Pridgen. Even though his gruff tenor voice ably served the songs, the guitarist invited the first of several guests who would join the band onstage over the course of the evening. Singer Raz Kennedy offered a gritty take on "Gypsy Eyes," the first of several tunes he would contribute to. A few songs later, McFadden's former Liar bandmate Marisa Martinez stepped up to add violin and soulful vocals to a rousing version of "Red House."
The guest spots at times gave the proceedings the feel of a loose, house-party jam session. At one point, McFadden even asked if anyone in the audience wanted to sing "1983...(A Merman I Should Turn to Be)," but no one was bold enough to take the microphone for the 13-minute sci-fi epic from Electric Ladyland.
While the band didn't shy away from Hendrix's big radio hits (Pridgen unleashed some propulsive thrashing that elevated "Purple Haze" to an explosive conclusion), T.E.N. embraced the romantic spirit of the holiday by touching on the guitar legend's more lyrical side. Soaring renditions of "Angel," "Little Wing," and mellow deep cuts like "May This Be Love" gave the couples in attendance ample opportunities to hold hands or make out. At least the drunk dudes rolling solo in the crowd could take solace in the periodic stage appearances by scantily clad dancers from the Vau de Vire Society.
Billing the night "Bold As Love: T.E.N. performs Jimi Hendrix" led to some confusion among attendees (this writer included) expecting to hear Axis: Bold as Love in its entirety, but the broader overview of Hendrix's music performed still covered a number of the classic album's tunes.
The outsider anthem "If 6 Were 9" morphed into a jazzy, double-time jam before veering into an extended interpolation of "Third Stone From the Sun" off Are You Experienced?. Even if the audience thinned out by the time T.E.N. dug into their original material for an encore - it was admittedly odd that the trio didn't play a couple of those songs to the packed house earlier - the two-hour marathon of guitar pyrotechnics and thunderous grooves sent everyone home with smiles on their faces.
Random notebook dump: 'No "Castles Made of Sand" WTF?' That was the one tune I was dying to hear from Axis that didn't make the cut.
Personal Bias: Martinez - who, full disclosure, teaches kindergarten at my daughter's elementary school - also organized a Friday afternoon performance by the band at the school that reportedly blew the young kids' collective minds.