Geoffrey Arnold "Jeff" Beck is 67 years old and he's a stud. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame guitar slinger rolled into town earlier this week to rehearse for his new Emotion & Commotion tour (named for his 2010 album), which kicked off last night at The Depot. First show of the tour? You sure couldn't tell! Like I said, the guy is a stud and, last night, demonstrated why many, myself included, consider Beck to be the world's greatest living guitar player.
Although calling Jeff Beck a guitar player is sort of like calling Catherine Deneuve pretty. Beck doesn't so much play guitar as he lives guitar. I can only think of a handful of guitarists - Jimi Hendrix, Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan - who demonstrate such utter command over their instrument that it seems more like an appendage - a part of their very body and being - than an instrument. On stage, Jeff Beck and his guitar become one, and it is good.
The sold out crowd was a bit longer in the tooth than at most Depot shows, with much of the audience old enough to remember when Beck played in The Yardbirds and Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals. Some might even have recalled that Beck was the original choice of guitarist for the then-forming Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page was brought in only after Jeff Beck declined the offer. And, Pink Floyd attempted to recruit Beck after the departure of Syd Barrett, but he politely declined that offer as well.
Last night's show started off blazing with funk-jazz-fusion a la Beck's Wired album ("Led Boots", "Blue Wind") before launching into a ripping tune from Emotion & Commotion called 'Hammerhead." From the get-go, Beck was on fire. And, The Depot is a perfect venue for him. It's small enough to allow his Marshall stacks to move air without having to be mic'd through a house P.A. system. At The Depot, we were able to hear Beck's Strat and Marshalls as God intended: unadulterated in all their glorious distortion.
The band he's touring with ain't too shabby, neither. On drums, Narada Michael Walden is a world-class musician in his own right and laid down monster beats last night while funk-mistress Rhonda Smith slapped the bass silly and Jason Rebello provided atmosphere on keyboards. Without a vocalist, however, Beck is limited mostly to instrumentals, so we didn't get to hear tunes from Emotion & Commotion like "I Put a Spell on You," sung on the album by Joss Stone or "Lilac Wine" featuring Imelda May. But hey, we were there to hear a guitar god, not vocals, and we got what we came for.
Beck's soaring version of "People Get Ready" was a highlight and, in fact, it was often on other people's tunes where he shined the brightest: his signature version of The Beatles' "A Day in the Life,' Hendrix' "Little Wing" and a gorgeous selection from Emotion & Commotion: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
There were a couple of surprises, too, including a raucous version of Sly Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher" and a rollicking "How High the Moon," a tune from Beck's just-ended Rock 'N' Roll Party tour, which was to honor the late Les Paul. "I wasn't going to do this, but I changed my mind," said Beck before launching into the song Les would have loved.
The evening ended with Jeff Beck demonstrating why he is the king: it's not the number of notes he plays, it's the way he plays them. Beck is nothing if not a tone freak and the sounds he wrings from his Stratocaster can bring tears to your eyes. That was the case as he wrapped up the night with a sublime rendition of Puccini's "Nessun Dorma", one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever created and taken to even a higher level by Jeff Beck. Name me another musician who can successfully translate opera to the electric guitar. I'm telling ya - the guy's a stud.