Jeff Beck is Eternal.
I always felt like Jeff Beck owed me one. The last time I saw him live was in the summer of 1969 headlining a day at the Newport Jazz Festival. This was the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. They followed powerhouse performances by Ten Years After, Jethro Tull, Blood Sweat & Tears and especially Rahsaan Roland Kirk with a lackluster set that illustrated why this band was about to break up. It was a disappointment for a young, 15-year-old rock junkie. Well, it took over 40 years, but last night he paid me back in full with a hyper-charged performance in The Music Box at Atlantic City’s Borgata Casino.
Jeff Beck doesn’t look like a sexagenarian rocker. He bounds on stage wearing a white sleeveless shirt, topped by a bumblebee vest and another black vest on top of that. His bare sinewy right arm is adorned with 4 inch silver bands around his bicep and wrist. He bends into his solos stalking the stage in white lace-up boots. I’d expect that from most rockers, but not this soon to be 66-year-old guitar-slinger who transformed rock guitar in the 1960s and went on to create innovative music throughout the next four decades, often punctuated by long stretches of semi-retirement. Yet, he proceeded to lay all guitar gods to waste with a riveting 90 minute performance.
Facing an adoring, sold out audience that looked nothing like the regular casino patrons, Jeff Beck brought in a seasoned quartet to essay music from across the post 1960s part of his career, drawing much of the music from his recent album, Emotion & Commotion. It made me realize how unusual it was to hear instrumental music played in a rock context like this, albeit rock with heavy doses of jazz, classical, folk and funk.
Beck can be the most soulful player, milking single notes for every drop of emotion on ballads like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or the Celtic inflections of “Women of Ireland.” Mostly playing a white Fender Strat, he revealed why he’s the Wizard of the Whammy Bar. It’s almost never out of his fingers as notes are bent and twisted into ricochet melismas of melody that rarely go where you expect them to go. And when he rocks out, that whammy bar elicits screams from his strings, as it did on take-no-prisoner renditions of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” and “Dirty Mind,” both from his 2000 electronica assault, You Had It Coming. His guitar squonked and squealed like a train putting on the brakes on a Max Escher train track.
Beck paced the show brilliantly, bringing the audience to dance fever ecstasy with a wild version of Sly & the Family Stone’s “I Wanna Take You Higher” and leading them into the quietest contemplation with the hymnal refrains of “Corpus Christi Carol.” He played several tracks from his Blow By Blow and Wired periods, which accounts for his selection of Narada Michael Walden on drums and Rhonda Smith on bass. Beck probably heard of Walden, a member of Beck’s Wired group, when the R&B producer/drummer was with the second edition of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Looking like The Shield‘s Michael Chiklis in drag with purple sequined vest and white gloves, he favored that explosive double bass drums to the gut approach of Billy Cobham. Smith comes from the Stanley Clarke School of Thumb-slap Bass Twang. That’s my least favorite bass institution, but she held things together nicely.
For a sweet homage to the late-Les Paul, he strapped on his black Gibson Les Paul guitar, playing along to Paul and Mary Ford’s “How High the Moon.” Beck and keyboardist Jason Rebello replicated Paul’s tape speed shifting and over-dubbed enhanced arrangement live.
Jeff Beck is enjoying something of a renaissance as people are beginning to recognize a rock guitar genius who has authenticity etched into every note he plays.
John Diliberto ((( echoes )))