Lights Burn Bright (10/07/08)
Beck Beckons Live, on DVD, and on CD
By Robert Putignano
I had not seen Jeff Beck live in several decades. Then, when I witnessed his performance on two songs as part of Eric Clapton's 2007 Crossroads Festival DVD, I decided it was time to check him out again. About a year afterwards, Eagle Records released the 2008 Jeff Beck Performing This Week...Live at Ronnie Scott's, and I became further intrigued. More recently, Eagle Vision released the beautifully recorded (audio & video) DVD of the Jeff Beck performance at the famed London club, including additional tracks with Clapton. So when I noticed that Beck was playing at the Fillmore in New York City, I made sure to go.
The DVD release and CD differ only on the tunes featuring guest artists. There are sixteen tracks on the CD, and twenty-one on the DVD. The additional DVD songs include: Joss Stone's vocals on "People Get Ready," "Blanket" and "Rollin' and Tumblin' with Imogen Heap, and Mr. Clapton appears on covers of Muddy Waters' "Little Brown Bird" and Willie Dixon's "You Need Love."
Beck's band consists of all-star drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, Jason Rebello on various keyboards, and the dynamic young bassist Tal Wilkenfeld. Other than the additional tracks on the DVD, the CD and New York live performances were quite similar and very explosive!
Highlights on the DVD, CD, and live performance include the dramatic classic "Beck's Bolero" that opened the gig. It took just two notes from Beck's guitar to raise my hair. Beck is still in complete control of his instrument, perhaps better than ever. He extracted some of the most amazing sounds on every tune. He gave each note its own special space on "'Cause We've Ended as Lovers" for a sound that is uniquely Beck. He bends notes on every phrase with incredibly emotional and beautiful tones. His slide work is also gorgeous, and he's extremely lyrical.
"Stratus" from Billy Cobham's Spectrum recording was further aided by Wilkenfeld's percolating bass lines and Colaiuta's propulsive drumming. On "Nadia," from Beck's You Had It Coming album, he opted to finger many of the notes. It is mesmerizing how the slide guitar extravaganza "Angel (Footsteps)" effortlessly combines fretted and slide pitches in the same line. The dazzling "Scatterbrain" and "Space Boogie" are righteous roars. Sandwiched in between for drama is Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," which segues into an intense "Brush with the Blues." "A Day in the Life" is also one of the best displays of Beck's command of the guitar and the feverish pitch he brings to the ending is breathtaking, especially when the band hits that perfectly timed last note.
The DVD's additional tracks add the obvious visual flavor, but for my ears I prefer Beck and his band mates in instrumental fashion, though it was a true treat to see and hear Eric Clapton on stage with Beck playing Blues classics together as they once did separately in their mutual tenures in the 1960s band the Yardbirds. The crystal clear DVD is also a huge plus, as is the glorious audio sound on this outstanding video.
Seeing Beck up-front and in my face at the Filmore was a joy to watch. His intensity flows into multiple arrangements that has stops, starts, and unexpected turns, showing how the guitarist is never predictable and completely defies his age. Not only does he look youthful, his playing at sixty-four years of age has never been better. His band is totally top-shelf, and through it all Beck's guitar sings, cries, moans, shouts, and wails with more emotion than any vocalist I've ever heard. Last but not least, seeing bad boy Beck back in the day was weird as he was not the charmer on stage. I once saw him bow his rear to the crowd. But these days Beck is obviously having a ball and seemed to enjoy the crowd, taunting them with smiles and multiple frontward bows, as he threw dozens of his guitar slides into the crowd to his adoring fans.
The bottom line is you should see Jeff Beck live or, if you cannot get to see him in performance, buy the CD and/or the DVD (also available on Blu-ray). You will not regret it.
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com