Jeff Beck returned to Melbourne last night just over 12 months after his previous appearance in this city and fresh from winning a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental for his moving version of the Beatles classic A Day in the Life. The Palais Theatre was the perfect venue to see Beck and his band of funky virtuosos entertain a packed house of mainly youthful baby boomers. Beck has a reputation for pushing the envelope in his live performances sometimes with mixed results, this was not one of those nights.
From the outset it was clear that Beck was in control. The change in band lineup with the addition of former Prince bassist Rhonda Smith and Narada Michael Walden for his 2010 tour has brought a fresh if not heavier sound to Beck’s playing and performance. The heavier lineup juxtaposed with the addition of new ballads off his masterful new album Emotion and Commotion made for one of the most dynamic performances I’ve seen by any artist.
Equipped with his signature series white Fender Stratocaster Beck’s legendary attack on the guitar was in full flight. His amazing right hand finger picking technique has the potential to change the way players approach electric guitar playing, as long as players study the technique and have the ability to utilise it. The concert was filled with many of Beck’s classics, Blast from the East, Behind the Veil, Brush with the Blues, ‘Cause we Ended as Lovers to name but a few.
Every song was a highlight in its own right with some outstanding exceptions.
Rollin’ and Tumblin’
A traditional blues songs with sketchy origins, this piece has been recorded and played by hundreds of artists and was a staple of any blues band to come out of 60’s Britain. Beck’s treatment retained the distinctive percussive driven elements of many previous versions but took the song to another place with the aid of Rhonda Smith’s soulful vocals and slap bass. Born out of the British blues explosion, songs like this are Beck’s bread and butter and are a perfect example of his ability to stand apart from his peers with an attack and phrasing that is all his own.
Named after Chervolet Big Block engines from the 1950’s, a car and an engine that Beck is renowned for restoring in his spare time, his passion for the subject matter was on display ten fold at the Palais. I’ve heard numerous versions of this song and without a doubt last night’s concert was the most inspiring. The precision and ferocity of Beck’s playing could only be compared to a force of nature, elements of which the audience were delighted to be exposed.
A Day in the Life
Always a bold ambition to reinterpret any Beatles classic there have only been a handful of successful attempts, this is one of them. Beck’s ability to respire energy and innovation into household melodies is core to his genius as a musician. Whereas most guitarist could do a respectable job for this song, very few can find as many interesting ways to navigate the melody through a maze of bends, harmonics and tremolo and still ensure the integrity of the melody arrives on time and in one piece.
Most guitar players who transition there playing from orthodox to slide in the scope of one performance usually have to change guitars to one with heavier strings and a higher action to make life a great deal easier. Beck doesn’t do that, his slide playing is as accurate and warm as his orthodox playing. This song not only highlights this aspect of his playing but takes it to an altitude that very few other guitarists can function at. Most dramatic of all comes in the third and final movement of the song where Beck with slide in right hand taps out the theme at an excruciatingly intricate third octave above the original melody, a place most guitarists barely know exists.
There are numerous other examples I could cite from what was an outstanding concert. A solid test of a concert’s success is the banter overheard from fellow concert goers. Usually no matter how well it went you will over hear someone, usually a middle aged woman or a smug late thirty something male, complaining about some aspect of the gig. Last night there was nothing but praise for the British maestro who, at the age of 65, is the Peter Pan of the guitar and if last night was anything to go by he will continue to inspire future generations to rock out!