A treasure trove of footage shot by documentarian Murray Lerner at the 1970 Isle of Wight Music Festival — the Flower Power era’s last great such event — had only been tapped for two video releases (showcasing perfs by The Who and Jimi Hendrix) until he finally put together 1997’s excellent all-star onstage-and-backstage overview “Message to Love.” “Blue Wild Angel” makes Hendrix’s entire set, played just a couple months before his overdose death that fall, available. While market for musical ’60s flashback isn’t what it used to be (nor is the campus-screening circuit), concert docu should continue to score scattered hardtop dates before ancillary access makes it a must-have for every basement would-be guitar god.
With two albums’ worth of new songs written, Hendrix & Co. were not eager to play a gig overseas, but they needed the money for studio time. That factor combined with jet lag and some political ill-will (Hendrix’s manager had demanded top billing at the fest, creating resentment among other acts which had all previously committed to alphabetical-order equality) helped make the Wight set something less than their finest hour.
Sometimes inspired, sometimes just workmanlike, band’s roughly 80-minute appearance is short on Hendrix’s trademark showmanship (licking the fret, etc.) save on “Foxy Lady.” Still, it’s musically rock-solid and often exciting. Eighteen songs played include covers of “Sgt. Pepper” and “All Along the Watchtower” (plus the equal-opportunity national anthem cheekiness of both “God Save the Queen” and “Star Spangled Banner”), along with such Hendrix originals as “Freedom,” “Machine Gun,” “In From the Storm,” “Red House” and an inevitable “Purple Haze.”
In full psychedelic sartorial splendor from neck choker to massively flared pant cuffs, Hendrix appears somewhere between relaxed and exhausted (the set was originally supposed to be much earlier in the day). His asides to stage crew and the occasional backstage walkie-talkie lend an extra immediacy to the viewing. Due to set’s nocturnal hour, there are few crowd reaction shots; multiple cameras and solid editing keep concert footage from becoming too static.
First 16 minutes briefly recap the massive festival’s backstory (already a logistical nightmare, it became a financial one when thousands gate-crashed their way in), while glimpsing Hendrix at Woodstock, on a Berkeley stage, and bantering with Dick Cavett on TV.
Remastered sound is impressive, other tech aspects well-handled.