Jeff Beck is Overlord of the Strings at L.A.’s Greek Theatre

September 20, 2006

Fig. 1

Fig. 2JEFF BECK'S SPECIAL ENGAGEMENT IN LOS ANGELES on September 28 featured a 14-piece string section as well as a guest appearance by El Shankar on doubleneck electric violin—but it was Beck’s insane ability on his own six strings that were ultimately the talk of tinsel town that gorgeous evening at the Greek Theatre. The set was a smattering of songs representing every era of the 62-year-old’s illustrious career, with the notable exception of any Yardbirds material. Guest siren Beth Hart wailed on the Jeff Beck Group stuff, which included “Ain’t Superstitious,” “You Shook Me,” “Going Down,” and “Morning Dew.” The backing band, which included über drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Randy Hope-Taylor, and keyboardist Jason Rebello played the challenging parts from Beck’s solo era capably, although no one stood up—or stood out—enough to really push Jeff, other than the occasional burst from Colaiuta. Beck’s greatest adversary that evening was a pesky buzz that molested him throughout the end of his set. With his sound cutting in and out, the good-humored Beck enacted a mock guitar smash up, tapped the headstock of his cream colored Fender Stratocaster against his Marshall heads, and eventually dropped to his knees, cursing and shaking his firsts towards the heavens. Of course, that only made the show more interesting. The best news is that Beck’s sickly beautiful playing proved that he continues to challenge himself, even if there are few laurels left to add to his hefty crown—or worthy contenders to his throne.

The British legend has not so much added significantly to his arsenal of unique techniques as he has refined and expanded them—mostly with his pick-less right hand, and most notably concerning his use the tremolo arm. Beck dropped a major Whammy Bomb on the guitar world on “Where Were You” from 1988’s Guitar Shop, and he has developed the approach he pioneered on that track to such a degree that it’s now incorporated to some degree into virtually everything he does—which equates to a wholly unique way of playing electric guitar. He keeps his pinky on the Strat’s volume knob, creating vocal-like envelopes as he plucks either a fretted note or a harmonic with his thumb or remaining right-hand digits, and then manipulates the note up or down in pitch with the whammy bar. For the last note of the reggae-tinged “Behind the Veil,” Beck whimsically substituted a heavenly harmonic, which he let ring out while slinging the guitar around his back and tying his shoe, before raising his arm to signal the segue into “Two Rivers.” Nailing such a dizzying array of tricks proved difficult even for the acrobatic Beck. He narrowly missed the bull’s-eye on a few occasions, but always managed to somehow land on his black work boots. He didn’t play “Where Were You” on this occasion, but he did play an equally ethereal rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and a supremely lyrical instrumental version of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” The string section accompanied both, and the combination of Beck’s soaring whammy harmonics with the orchestration were the evening’s highlights and show closers.

Other highlights also included the string section, which appeared onstage after an intermission that was so short, much of the middle-aged crowd was caught off guard, forcing them to soak in Blow By Blow producer George Martin’s gorgeous “Diamond Dust” arrangement as they scurried back to their seats. The augmented band played “Scatterbrain” at a blistering pace with the string section sawing away furiously in order to keep up. “Led Boots” also featured stings—an interesting choice considering they are not a part of the original Wired recording, and because it’s rare to hear a string section hammer away at a such a syncopated fusion guitar riff, which they did while Beck went for the jugular during his solos.

The audience was filled with all walks of the music lovers, including guitarist Johnny A., Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, and amp manufacturer Paul Rivera Jr. Backstage, all searched for superlatives to describe Beck’s magnificent tone, singular phrasing, and age-defying energy. The consensus: Beck is still at the top of his game, if not the top guitar cat on the planet, period.


Complete Set List

Beck’s Bolero


You Never Know

'Cause We've Ended as Lovers

You Shook Me

Morning Dew

Behind the Veil

Two Rivers

Star Cycle

Big Block

Nadia (guest El Shankar)

Angel’s Footsteps


Diamond Dust


Led Boots

Ain't Superstitious

Going Down

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Brush with the Blues


Blue Wind


Change Is Gonna Come

A Day in the Life

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

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