Jeff Beck made his much anticipated appearance last night (10/23/11) to a sellout crowd at Winnipeg’s Pantages Playhouse Theatre.
The multi-award winning English guitarist, one of 3 legends to be spawned by 60’s British Invasion icons, The Yardbirds, along with fellow luminaries Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, hit the stage with his trademark white Fender Strat, still lean and looking guitar god cool at age 66, decked out in shades, an arm bracelet, white sleeveless shirt, gray vest and slacks.
Except for the light show, Beck eschewed most of the rock star stage trappings, settling for a stripped down stage, and allowing his guitar, the songs, and his tight backing band, consisting of keyboardist Jason Rebello, Canuck bassist Rhonda Smith (from Halifax), and drummer Narada Michael Walden to take center stage.
Other than acknowledging the crowd with a nod or gesture, the notoriously temperamental musician said little throughout the night, except to introduce band members or to encourage applause for solo spots, preferring to let his guitar speak for him.
Beck’s virtuosity is a marvel to behold. He’s lost none of the speed, dexterity, or phrasing that made him an icon among fans and peers, and is still the master of the whammy bar, capable of wringing every ounce of emotion out of a single sustained note in 1 moment, and, in the next, pummel the listener with lightning quick guitar riffs, leaving the many guitar god wannabees in attendance to peel their collective jaws off the floor.
Though his lengthy back catalogue stretches back to the 60’s, Beck focused mostly on contemporary material, primarily tracks from his last 3 Grammy winning albums, You Had It Coming, Jeff, and Emotion and Commotion, with the veteran musician continuing his pioneering fusion of blues, rock, electronica, jazz and funk, which has earned him both critical and chart success.
Highlights included the riff laden “Plan B,” from the 2003’s, Jeff, the hard rocking “Hammerhead,” from 2010’s Emotion and Commotion complete with waa-waa pedal intro, his tasty instrumental cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” (a song Beck has successfully tackled on a number of occassions, teaming with the likes of ex-bandmate Rod Stewart, and more recently Joss Stone and Sting), “Big Block” from 1989’s Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop, which highlighted the rhythm section of Smith and Michael at their popping best, and Beck’s soaring rendering of Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” also from Emotion and Commotion.
But it was the homestretch that offered some of the most interesting twists of the night, and displayed Beck’s eclectic musical nature, showcasing himself at his whammy bar best on a dynamic cover of Lennon-McCartney’s “A Day in the Life,” which netted the band their 1st standing ovation. He returned with a swinging tip of the hat to the late great Les Paul with the jazz standard “How High the Moon,” followed by a funkadlelic cover of Sly Stone’s “I Wanna Take You Higher,” helped along by some spirited lead vocal work from Smith and Michael, who roused the entire crowd to their feet, clapping and singing along to the chorus.
Beck then did a 180 degree shift, serving up a tasteful rendering of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, (yup…the opera) and closed with a hard rocking cover of “Bad Romance,” complete with middle 8 rap courtesy of Smith (yup…that would be the Lady Gaga hit)!
Who else but Beck could move from 40’s jazz, to 60’s funk to traditional opera to contemporary electro-dance pop without batting an eyelash and make it all work smoothly and successfully in a single set?
Guitar prodigy Tyler Bryant opened the night with an electrifying acoustic set that took many Winnipegers by surprise. The 20-year old Texan dazzled with his guitar and vocal chops, and also raised the bar a couple of notches, when he returned later in the night for a guitar duet with Beck during “I Wanna Take You Higher.”