April 5, 2006
House Of Blues
It seems to me that when I listen to someone describe a particular musician who is really good at what they do, I usually hear the same descriptions: "He totally rocked," "They were unbelievable," "She was the BEST," or, the most overused one of all, "He's a GENIUS." I have been guilty of these clichés myself, from time to time. After all, I attend a lot of concerts and write reviews as part of my job. I just tend to hear people say the same things when they are blown away by a performance.
Every now and then I will see a performance that leaves me near speechless. Jeff Beck’s recent show at the House of Blues in Hollywood was one of them. This man is THE master of the Stratocaster, armed with so many guitar tricks that only he can do, he should have a patent on them.
Opening with "Beck’s Bolero" from his 1968 release Truth, Beck, sporting his trademark off-white Fender Strat, led his excellent band through a career retrospective that was thoroughly enjoyed by the sold-out crowd. Consisting of drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Pino Palladino, and keyboardist Jason Rebello, the band was as tight a unit as you can imagine. These guys, hand-picked by Beck undoubtedly, did justice to the recorded versions of many of the numbers, much to the delight of the crowd.
From the Roy Buchanan-influenced, Stevie Wonder composition "Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers," from 1975’s hugely popular Blow By Blow album, to the treatment of "Angel (Footsteps)" from 1999’s Who Else!, there was something from just about every phase of Jeff Beck’s solo recording career. I’m sure you could nit-pick and find a few records that weren’t represented, as I overheard many in the crowd do during the evening, but overall I was impressed.
Looking EXACTLY the same as he has for the last 40 years or so — the same Nigel Tufnel-from-Spinal Tap-meets-Jane-Fonda-in-Klute hair-do, sleeveless t-shirt, and jeans look he’s had since I’ve been following him — Beck seemed to be having a great time of it onstage with such a receptive crowd before him. During "You Shook Me" and "Morning Dew," original vocalist Rod Stewart’s vocals were replicated by another hand-picked singer, local artist Beth Hart, who did an outstanding job throughout the evening. This woman belted it out with all the soul of Stewart or, for that matter, many of the best black blues singers around. She is truly wonderful.
This crowd was here to witness technique for the most part. I, and many in the crowd, stared, open-mouthed as Beck tore through numbers like "Behind The Veil," "Big Block," and "Two Rivers" from 1989’s Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop CD. Sometimes using a pick and sometimes his thumb, Beck produced sounds all his own. There is nobody that plays like him.
I first saw Jeff Beck in 1976 on the Wired tour. That album was well represented at the House Of Blues as the rhythm section of Colaiuta and Palladino shined on "Led Boots," "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," and the set-closing "Blue Wind." During the encore, Beth Hart returned for a blistering version of "Going Down" from 1972’s Jeff Beck Group LP. Many members in the crowd began screaming out her name, producing a huge grin on Beck’s face — something you don’t always see from such a masterful musician.
Finally, he played an all-instrumental version of the classic "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" in true Beck style, complete with ample use of his volume knobs. And just like that they were done. If I had to whine about not hearing a particular number I favor, it would have to be "Freeway Jam" from Blow By Blow because hey...we were in Los Angeles, after all! I have played that one on my car stereo after a million "SIG Alerts."
After the show, many milled about, thrilled to have witnessed one of only six stops on the tour. I ran into a fellow journalist and after discussing what a master of the guitar Jeff Beck has been for so many years, he exclaimed: "He's a genius." I smiled and agreed.