Jeff Beck shows off at the House of Blues

A review of Jeff Beck at the House of Blues on April 16, 2009

, Staff Writer

The guitar solo has always been a pretty accurate barometer of popular music’s development in a given time period, as well as something through which one can examine how that development comes to fruition in future generations. You can, for instance, trace a direct line from Jimi Hendrix through The Velvet Underground and The Fall, to Sonic Youth and finally Pavement, through which any number of recent acts can be pointed to, all based on what was being done on the guitar. There is a bevy of virtuosic guitar players out there, all a tier below Jimi, but also who have left their own mark on rock music: Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Joe Satriani, and, of course, Jeff Beck.

Fresh off of last week’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, Jeff Beck, for nearly two hours, gave a clinic in guitar technique for a sold-out crowd at the House of Blues, performing an entirely instrumental set that weaved between styles like it was no big thing, bringing classic blues to the table, as well as straight-up heavy metal rocking out, some jazz here and there, and everything in between.

The set kicked off with “Beck’s Bolero”, a classic tune that immediately allowed Beck to show off exactly what he can do on the instrument, which apparently is everything. The song began somewhat simplistically, an almost regal rhythm building up as Beck zapped the song’s main riff out of the House’s speakers. After some noodling, the song gave way to a rocking beat, as drummer Vinnie Colaiuta smashed his kit all over the place, keyboardist Jason Rebello bouncing on his keys and providing persistent arpeggios throughout.

Another fine piece was “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”, a sort of slower, smooth jazz fusion type song. Beck let his guitar wail on this one, carrying his frenetic soloing up through the entire range of the instrument, running the full gamut of his abilities. He would be crooning up top sometimes, other times soloing madly in the mid-range, and yet other times providing a nice, coherent melody, establishing a base on which he could launch into the stratosphere again.

The thing about Jeff Beck is, as good as his technique is, there’s a reason his songs aren’t up there with “All Along The Watchtower” (unfair, I know) or “Layla”: he’s not the most amazing songwriter. His songs are mostly avenues through which he can play a ridiculous guitar solo more than they are their own pieces. I suppose this is why Jeff& Beck is the guitar player on these songs. “Nadia”, for instance, certainly allowed him to show off his chops, but the song underneath was a little dull, and in all honesty showed its age with unimpressive synth patches and uninspired drum beats.

It’s not too surprising, then, that I found his cover of The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” to be one of the high points of the evening. Beck successfully managed to capture the tone of the original tune, but still managed to add his own flavor to it, taking the vocals to the guitar and throwing in some trills and bends, making it a thoroughly Jeff Beck experience. The audience applauded triumphantly when he brought the melody up an octave, and at this point really started to get moving: Beck brought the song to an insane build up, somehow making himself sound like a dozen guitarists. The limitations of one instrumental voice don’t seem to be an issue for Beck, who can fill up an ensemble with just his lone instrument.

There were plenty of fans of Beck who seemed old enough to remember him in his Yardbird days, and who faithfully knew every single song the guy played. It’s always heartening to see old fans coming out to support an act they listened to when they were much younger, and just as heartening to see those acts still on the road, refusing to let the past entirely become something we can only contextualize through the mediums of the time. Jeff Beck shows that there is still a place in this world for the guitar solo, and even though we’ve moved beyond even Metal Machine Music, people still like to hear a guy go nuts on the guitar.

His hairdo is still the same, by the way.

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