Bullets Fly Like Rain, 1970

“Machine Gun”
Band of Gypsys
Fillmore East, New York City
January 1, 1970
First Set
There is not much left to be said about Jimi Hendrix.
He was the greatest electric guitarist who ever lived. Nobody ever came close, and nobody ever will. A thousand more lifetimes of guitar players can never be as inventive or passionate, or just plain bad ass, as Hendrix.
There are countless moments of sonic genius in the Hendrix canon, from the groundbreaking surreal psych-pop of  “Are You Experienced” to the deep scorching future blues of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” but nothing can touch the rendition of “Machine Gun” with Band of Gypsys on January 1, 1970 at New York’s Fillmore East. It is his finest live moment and one of the most extraordinary musical performances ever to be captured on audio and, amazingly, video.
Everything that is beautiful and ruinous in this world is contained in this one song, this one performance. Life, Death, Transcendence. Everything perfectly aligned, harmonious, absolute.
Hendrix was operating outside of time itself, floating free across a deadly serious groove set by his elite rhythm section, drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox. The hardcore bottom end these guys laid down that night is so heavy and rock hard it’s frightening.
This is Hendrix at his astonishing best. A soundscape of savage beauty and eternal destruction.
It is pure sonic poetry of the highest order. And one of the most damning critiques of the Vietnam War.
“Machine Gun” is the second song from the first set performed that night. Hendrix introduces it in a plaintive, reserved manner:
“Happy New Year first of all. I hope you have about a million or two more of them…if we can get over this summer (snarling laugh). We’d like to dedicate this one to uh, to the draggin’ scene that’s goin’ on…all the soldiers that are fightin’ in Chicago and Milwaukee and New York…oh yes, and all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam. I’d like to do a thing called ‘Machine Gun.’”
Hendrix tunes up his Strat and the singular opening figure of the song emerges almost out of thin air, setting an ominous, molten tone. The rhythm section barrels in with what will become a recurring theme of machine gun snare blasts. The band fills in hard and heavy behind Hendrix as he begins to build his howling protest.
Hendrix approaches the first vocal section, doubling the opening phrases of guitar with his voice. A melancholy sadness wrapped around desperate words of anguish.
Machine Gun
Tearing my body all apart
Machine Gun, yeah
Tearing my body all apart
Evil man make me kill ya
Evil man make you kill me
Evil man make me kill you
Even though we’re only families apart
Well I pick up my axe and fight like a farmer
(You know what I mean)
Hey! And your bullets keep knocking me down
Hey, I pick up my axe and fight like a farmer now
Yeah, but you still blast me down to the ground
The same way you shoot me down, baby
You’ll be going just the same
Three times the pain,
and your own self to blame
Hey, Machine Gun
And then, the moment of transcendence.
At minute 4:17 in the video, Hendrix lets fly a series of sustained notes that are unprecedented—a hailstorm of bullets piercing the heavens—complete and total annihilation. Hendrix takes off as the guitar glides through regions of severe melodic shifts and burning sunsets of weeping, fluid sound. His most progressive, radically charged solo takes center stage and every last human cell of the audience and every last fiber of the Fillmore is forever changed, reconstituted…enlightened.
The howling protest continues for several minutes as Buddy Miles slams back in with carpet-bombing drumming, ripping through the song’s structure, tearing apart any hope of reprieve.
Crushing, eternal and as heavy as a war on the other side of the globe on the first evening of the new decade.
January 1, 1970.
After the solo, the final verses commence and the rhythm section intones a ghostly vocal backup as Hendrix comes to terms with the widespread wreckage. He is now almost defiant, unfazed, accepting of the harsh reality of the world he is living in, the dark new horizon of this New Year’s Day.
I ain’t afraid of your mess no more, babe
I ain’t afraid no more
After a while, your, your cheap talk don’t even cause me pain,
so let your bullets fly like rain
’Cause I know all the time you’re wrong baby
And you’ll be going just the same
Yeah, Machine Gun
Tearing my family apart
Yeah, yeah, alright
Tearing my family apart
Buddy Miles enters with a series of solo vocal pleas:
Don’t you shoot him down
He’s ’bout to leave here
Don’t you shoot him down
He’s got to stay here
He ain’t going nowhere
He’s been shot down to the ground
Oh where he can’t survive, no, no
Hendrix then wanders through the destruction, looking for one last shred of hope, but of course there is nothing as final as the parade of death that war has brought forth.
Hendrix finally rages, exploding with a cascade of sonic assaults and fiery bombs raining from black skies.
And then…nothingness.
Silence.
The audience is awestruck, unable to process or come to terms with what they have witnessed for the past 13 minutes.
“Yeah, that’s one we don’t want to hear anymore, right?” — Hendrix
“No bullets, no guns, no bombs.” — Miles
Band of Gypsys performed “Machine Gun” four times over the course of four sets during their two-night stand at the Fillmore. Each version holds its own emotional space, each expressing alternate sides of similar emotions and expanding the central themes at the song’s core, but this performance on January 1 stands as the ultimate realization of Jimi’s unsurpassed genius and the most perfectly fulfilled rendition of the song.
It is the power of soul, and the power of a song so in and of the moment it becomes a signpost, a legendary missive defining a long-gone era, transmitted across all space and time, by one of the greatest artists who ever lived.

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2 Responses to Bullets Fly Like Rain, 1970

  1. Joe Popp says:

    Just freaking amazing…Thanks for posting this.

  2. dave says:

    That was sick. For a moment near the end, it started to sound like a Palace Gallery session.

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