Concert Review: Jeff Beck at the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA, April 23, 2009

April 24, 2009

Spoiler alert: I’m going to give away the key part of the Jeff Beck show from last night. I don’t want to shock anyone, but he absolutely killed.

Clad in an awesome (or awesomely horrible) sleeveless white suit with the pants tucked into his bitchin’ white boots, the Guv’nor took the stage to the strains of “Beck’s Bolero” and it took all of two seconds to be reminded that this guy is the baddest in the world. He was in complete control of his instrument and wrenched the most amazing sounds out of it on every tune. “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” has always been a great showcase for his dynamics and touch and the Fox performance proved it once again. It’s unreal how he can give each note its own special vibrato, which is unlike any other vibrato. Likewise with his bends—every phrase was a clinic in emotional, beautiful ways to bend to and from a note. Then there’s the guy’s slide work, which is so lyrical and so achingly beautiful that at times it’s hard to keep from crying. Beck actually played less slide than usual on the incredible “Nadia” off his You Had It Coming album, opting instead to finger many of the notes. When he finally did don the bottleneck, what he played raised the song to an all-new level. Without a doubt, the slide-guitar showstopper was “Angel (Footsteps).” Aside from the fact that it’s a timeless melody, the way Beck effortlessly combines fretted and slide pitches in the same line is mind-boggling. What’s truly breathtaking, however, is toward the end of the tune where he takes the slide in his right hand and plays the melody in the stratospheric register above the pickups. Think about it: Up there, every 1/8th of an inch is probably a whole-step, yet he somehow nails the melody, complete with killer vibrato and embellishments. As he explained to me in his interview in 2000, when asked how such a feat was even possible: “Well, I suppose I’ve gotten very good at jumping off of a bad note very, very quickly.” Uh, okay. When you thought it couldn’t get any better, he played his version of “A Day in the Life,” which, back when Beck recorded it prompted Sir George Martin to say, “He is a king to me.” When the entire crowd was certain it couldn’t get any better, he did what might be the best rendition of “Where Were You” that I’ve ever heard him play. We should all be so lucky as to hit one note, once in our lives, like he did over and over in that song.

Savvy readers will have figured out by this point that I’m a fan who is, in the words of JB, “given to flowery praise.” Guilty as charged. Simply put, there is no one on the planet like this guy. Compared to him, all the rest of us are just playing scales and chords. The only show I’ve seen with better guitar work was another Jeff Beck show. By the way, he hates it when guitar geeks are in awe of him, so please don’t tell him I wrote this.

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