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Sunday, October 23, 2011



Live At Massey Hall (October 18, 2011) :: Look, when it comes to rock ’n’ roll record promotion, it’s a proven scientific fact that most advertising copy ain’t worth the pixels it’s printed on. In fact, you can probably count on one rigid digit the number of times you’ve read a superhype saying that had even the slightest grain of truth to it—and I should know ’cause I used to write such foolish folderol myself for Columbia Records during my CREEM rock critic days.

But in 1975, no truer words were ever printed than those penned by another anonymous Columbia copywriter who was astute enough to slap these five words of wisdom on the full page magazine advertisement heralding Jeff Beck’s first solo album Blow By Blow: RETURN OF THE AXE MANIAC. Sure it was an obvious ha ha turn of phrase, but it was also prescient beyond belief in that no guitar slinger has gotten louder and crazier and noisier and more technically adept as each decade does a lap than El Beckola.

And don’t even try to argue the issue because just a chronological glance at your record collection will prove that, as rock ’n’ rollers get older, it’s utterly inevitable that they get softer—and I’m not talkin’ about virility in the sack, I’m talkin’ about volume in the studio. As maxims of maturity go, TURN IT DOWN seems to be their overriding axiom of aging because, with the obvious aberrant exception of Beck, every single raucous rock musician who ever lived, has lived to see the day come when their sonic six-guns were hung up in exchange for a pipe and slippers. Even such much-vaunted volume advocates as Neil Young and Jimmy Page have had disconcerting bouts of flaccidness recently—assuming that they even bother to wake up to show up.

However, there’s always an exception to the rule, and I had the pleasure of seeing that exception implementing his craft in living rock action color when Jeff Beck showed up to shred venerable old Massey Hall into splinters. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have seen Beck playing live in Beck, Bogart & Appice; at the start of his solo career; wailing away in tandem with Jan Hammer; and beyond, but I’ve never heard him sound as dexterously ferocious as he does now—and that’s not hyperbole, that’s a fact.

But don’t take my word for it, just listen to Beck’s hand-picked opening act, guitar prodigy Tyler Bryant, who takes perverse delight in warning the audience that Beck will “melt your face off whether you like it or not.” That rock critic potential notwithstanding, what Tyler neglected to mention is that Beck’s playing will also peel paint off a barn; sandblast brick; and bleach muslin at thirty feet. Now concert reviewing tradition dictates I that mandatorily mention how, musically, Beck rummages through most of his back catalog from “Rice Pudding” past “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” and all points in between. But that’s not the point because the real treat isn’t listening to what Beck plays, it’s paying attention to how he plays it.

Chuck Berry may sing about a guy who can play a guitar just like a-ringin’ a bell, but watching Beck do his thing is such an education in execution that you can’t help but get the feeling that Beck invented that bell; designed it; manufactured it; polished it; and then is able to ring it six ways from Sunday, hitting every possible tone it can create along the way with a maximum of ease and a minimum of effort. Unlike Mick Ronson, who grimaced as if each note he played had an actual physical weight; or Page, who literally sweats out every solo, Beck has such supreme technical mastery over his machine, it’s as if he’s calmly revving a supercharged muscle car that’s so sensitive it responds to his slightest touch with a surgical level of hair-trigger precision that almost seems uncannily preternatural.

And I do mean flat-out red line revving because, even when he’s playing softer nuanced numbers, you somehow sense that that’s not the part of town where Beck really likes to hang his hat. For no matter how sonically sensitive his more melodious moods may be, it’s like using Old Sparky with the juice turned down to warm up a pot of coffee. Sure it’ll do the job, but you’re always aware that behind that dialed down restraint there lurks enough unbridled pent-up energy to blast everything into smithereens.

That’s always been the case but it’s especially applicable now given that Beck is backed on this tour by his most powerful band ever, namely: legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Narada Michael Walden; bowel-buffeting bassist Rhonda Smith; and kinetic keyboardist Jason Rebello. Which pretty much explains why Beck’s having so much gosh-darned fun on stage these days. I mean, the cat used to be downright dour at times, but no more. Beck talks! Beck smiles! Beck does slapstick shtick with the audience! Will wonders never cease? About the only thing he doesn’t do during his two hour tenure in front of the footlights is warble a few bars of “Psycho Daisies” and, who knows, he just might even do that the next time he comes to Your Town. Oh, and did I mention that it’s worth the price of admission alone just to see him strap on a Les Paul and then play “How High The Moon” with Les Paul?

But if you aren’t able to see Beck hammering the whammy bar this time around, make sure that you pick up the slack by treating yourself to his two outstanding new feature-length concerts, both of which are now available exclusively on Eagle Vision DVD: Jeff Beck Performing This Week...Live At Ronnie Scott’s and Jeff Beck’s Rock ’n’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul. End of plug.


Be seeing you!

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