Thursday, April 06, 2006

Jeff Beck

From All Music Guide: While he was as innovative as Jimmy Page, as tasteful as Eric Clapton, and nearly as visionary as Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck never achieved the same commercial success as any of his contemporaries, primarily because of the haphazard way he approached his career. After Rod Stewart left the Jeff Beck Group in 1971, Beck never worked with a charismatic lead singer who could have helped sell his music to a wide audience. Furthermore, he was simply too idiosyncratic, moving from heavy metal to jazz fusion within a blink of an eye. As his career progressed, he became more fascinated by automobiles than guitars, releasing only one album during the course of the '90s. All the while, Beck retained the respect of fellow guitarists, who found his reclusiveness all the more alluring.

As every Music Geek knows, Jeff Beck was the inspiration for Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel ("You can't really dust for vomit..."). Beck has always been one of Umlaut's favorite Guitar Heroes and, as every Music Geek knows, in the early-60's he was one of the first guitarists to experiment with feedback. There was also his stint with The Yardbirds, The Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, etc. etc. At one point during the Pre-CD Days, Umlaut was obsessed with Beck's guitar stylings... I still have all of his 1968-80 albums on vinyl; I've never owned any of his stuff on CD.

MUSIC GEEKS! Click HERE to see a video of Beck performing 'For Your Love' with The Yardbirds circa 1965! Then click HERE to see a video of Beck performing 'The Train Kept A-Rollin' with The Yardbirds circa 1966!

"With a heave and a ho, I just couldn't let her go.."

ARMS Benefit
Cow Palace
San Francisco
December 3, 1983

The ARMS (Action Resource For Multiple Sclerosis) Benefit was a brief 4 city / 9 show U.S. tour to raise funds and awareness about Multiple Sclerosis research. As every Music Geek knows, these shows were the first time all 3 guitarists from The Yardbirds (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page) shared the same stage.. and the backing band included the likes of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones among others.

The tour included 3 shows in S.F. and the first 2 shows sold out quickly even in those pre-Internet days.. I waited in line at the local Record Factory / BASS ticket outlet for a couple of hours for the 3rd show to go onsale. Tickets were $20 (TWENTY DOLLARS). That's pretty amazing in hindsight! A show with that kind of Rock Star power for only $20?! I can't even imagine what that bill would cost today.

Clapton wore a suit onstage. Beck wore his standard sleeveless t-shirt and jeans onstage. He also had the best Rock Star swagger of any of the performers. However, of course, the highlight of the night was Jimmy Page since this was the first time he'd been onstage since Zeppelin broke up. While he looked a bit punchy up there, Page crowned his portion of the show by performing a solo instrumental version of 'Stairway To Heaven' on his iconic Gibson doubleneck. The song climaxed with all 3 guitarists onstage. It was definitely one of those "HOLY SHIT" moments. Magical, dude.

Jeff Beck / Stevie Ray Vaughan
Coliseum Arena
Oakland, CA
December 3, 1989

The next time I saw Jeff Beck was 6 years later TO THE DAY.. WOW! I didn't realize that until just now! What a trip... The Rock Godz work in mysterious ways, man.

On this occasion, I was fortunate enough to see him share the bill with the mighty Stevie Ray Vaughan. Beck's band consisted of Terry Bozzio on drums and Tony Hymas on keyboards. No bass; the bass lines were provided by Hymas' synths. He was touring behind his now-classic Guitar Shop album and his set included a nod to The Yardbirds with 'The Train Kept A-Rollin'. However, compared to Stevie Ray, Beck's set was a bit tame. Stevie Ray was a juggernaut of volume and guitar fire. Although Stevie Ray was a step above Beck on that night, it was still amazing to see those two Guitar Legends share the stage... and 8 months later Stevie Ray was dead. I wish I still had that tour shirt.

MUSIC GEEKS! Click HERE to see a video of Beck jamming with Stevie Ray on 'I'm Down' from that 1989 Tour! Sweet Mother of Rock.. My head almost exploded when I watched it.

The Warfield
San Francisco
April 4, 2006

I figured I should see Jeff Beck at least one more time so I could claim a Beck Hat Trick. This was Beck's first U.S. trek in 4 years and he was only playing 6 West Coast / Southwest shows on this visit. Tickets for this sold out show were going for up to $140 each on Ebay... Some folks sitting several seats down from us said they paid $127 each for their seats. Lock 'N Loll!

When I saw Drunk Horse 2 weeks ago they covered 'Beck's Bolero'. In a nice Music Geek twist, Beck opened his set with that song. It was cool to see him in a small venue and his onstage cohorts included bassist Pino Palladino, who also performs with Townshend and Daltry in the 21st Century version of The Who. For some songs he brought out a spunky Rocker Chick vocalist (Beth Hart) who added an unexpected fire to the band, especially during a pretty roaring version of 'You Shook Me'.

I was surprised that I recognized songs like 'Blue Wind' and 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' because I haven't listened to Beck's stuff in, like, forever. I guess he affected my Inner Music Geek more deeply than I thought. 'Blue Wind' took me right back to those Pre-CD Days, man.

I must admit I even got a little teary-eyed a couple of times watching Beck solo; the version of 'Cause We've Ended As Lovers' was truly hypnotic. This was one of those rare shows where I forgot what a jaded Music Geek I am.. I found myself sucked into the music and the performance and the outside world didn't matter at all.

Man, here was one of THE original Guitar Gods laying it down like he was still 25 years old... Beck does NOT look like he's almost 62 years old! Compare him to Keef Richards and you'll see why maybe playing Jazz instead of Rock is better for you in the long run.

Despite his incredible variety of playing styles, Beck still has that Rock Star swagger.. I loved how he'd sometimes cue band members during a song by pointing his Strat at them like a rifle while he played. Several times Beck would hit a note and the look on his face was like "SHIT! THAT sounded GOOD!!" and he'd smile at his band. At one point he pulled off a particularly stunning bit and he threw his hands up, grabbed his hair, and then threw his arms out to the crowd with a huge smile on his face as if to ask "Did you see THAT?!" There's still nothing contrived about Jeff Beck, down to him wearing a plain black sleeveless shirt, off-the-rack black Levi's, and everyday work boots onstage. He lets the music do the talkin'.

It was nice to be at a show where the crowd was there to appreciate music rather than to get drunk and mosh. After the show a guy simply yelled "WOW!!" to no one in particular... As I walked in the rain back to the Jetta I knew exactly how he felt. An original Guitar God does indeed still walk the Earth.. and his name is Jeff Beck. "This one goes to 11..."

A note about Beck's printed setlist: While most setlists Umlaut manages to collect are on standard 8.5" x 11" paper, JB's was on special 8.5" x 14" paper and printed in large, bold caps (18pt font). Maybe the enormo-sized list was to accommodate senior-eye-tis... but then again is it not appropriate for a Guitar God to display a larger than life setlist??

THANKS to The Sheriff for obtaining the enormous setlist. I hope he used his knees when lifting it.

Michael Schenker Group shirts seen = 1. Arsenal scarves seen = 1. If you bought one of every Jeff Beck merch item you would have paid only $40(!). On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag. The only merch item for sale was a black polo shirt with some kind of Jeff Beck logo embroidered on the chest. I suppose that item appeals to the majority of Beck's 21st Century demographic, but a retro Truth or Wired album cover t-shirt would have sold, dyaknowwhatimean?

Epilogue: In 1985, on a whim, I wrote Spinal Tap a letter. To my surprise I received a reply letter from Nigel Tufnel (lead guitar):

Okay, it was a form letter.. but it was still funny. I doubt you'd get a reply if you wrote to Spinal Tap now. Trivia: The 1992 Spinal Tap song 'Break Like The Wind' features a guitar solo by Jeff Beck.

"Will our voices be heard... or will they break like the wind?"