Jeff Beck at The Olympia Theatre, Wednesday 21st May 2014
These children of the ’60s have disappointed us before. Whichever side of the sharp, distortion-filled fence you find yourself on in regards to Neil Young’s RDS show last summer, it’s getting harder to believe that those one time musical greats are doing anything that younger acts aren’t now doing better, while being all the more interesting. As one of the guitarists in the legendary Yardbirds, Jeff Beck confirmed his own personal legendary status long ago. But rather than being yet another ’60s throwback, what this gig tonight suggests is that that era was only the beginning of the journey for a truly masterful guitar player.
Drawing from the influence of Beck’s early electric blues work, opening act Sal Vitro perform a stripped back set heavily reliant on the sounds that influenced both themselves and the young Beck. It’s a very appropriate opening for the headline act, because as Beck soon reminds us, the blues played only a part of the man’s career. An integral part to be sure, but the Dublin band are about as deep as the night’s music gets into the sound that made Jeff Beck a rock ‘n’ roll sensation in the ’60s.
A good twenty years passed between the time he left The Yardbirds and the time jazz fusion started to establish itself in the music world, and it is the latter sound that dominates Beck’s music. Of course this man wasn’t merely a practitioner of that mixture of jazz and rock, he was one of the pioneers. Those twenty intervening years were spent transforming popular tunes into something strange and new, all the while perfecting the technical ability of playing the electric guitar. It may be redundant to say at this stage in his career, but Jeff Beck is a scary master at playing his weapon of choice.
In one bar of music he can strike out several notes with his right hand, then tighten the whammy bar, then alter the volume and tone knobs on the body before starting onto the next bar. And he manages this with a kind of automatic perfection that is only possible of those who have reached a level of obsessive brilliance in their craft. The result is that Jeff Beck can play his guitar better than you can digest your food.
So besides the technical proficiency, what does Beck’s live show have going for it? Lots as it turns out. The jazzy ethos is prominent and his band is given opportunities to prove their own respective abilities. A remarkable four-piece, they warm up slowly but reach that point of musical uniformity early on. A (let’s face it) rather naff Danny Boy gets plucked out on Beck’s guitar while the lighting on the stage turns green, like some of our sensibilities. But it still manages to sound fantastic, almost bluesy, which is a testament to Beck’s ability to even turn a bad idea into a great song.
An exciting expansion on Hendrix’s Little Wing and a cover of The Beatles’ A Day In The Life (orchestral breakdown and all) play as tributes to the guitarist’s contemporaries, while a truly brilliant take on the Rollin’ & Tumblin’ Blues as an encore earns the man but one of his several ovations. It’s fascinating to watch a master such as Jeff Beck at work, and while he may no longer be on the cutting edge of doing new things with the electric guitar, he can still teach 99.9% of guitarists something they didn’t know they didn’t know.
Jeff Beck Photo Gallery
Photos: Shaun Neary