Jeff Beck at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in Maryland Heights, Missouri, July 28th.
a concert review by Thomas Mandrafino-Ruzicka
Running up the large backside of a hill, I hear metallic echoes clanging overhead. Being a man of good timing, I know that this must be the start of Jeff Beck’s set. A newfound vigor charges through my cells as I steam toward the awaiting valley beyond this obstructing knoll. “Pull it” bellows from the stage, from Jeff’s latest album Loud Hailer. That term being a Brit expression for what we may call a megaphone. It’s symbolic as a means to an end: Yelling. Befitting this is how it roars like an angry robot demanding penance. This is a wonderful day to die, it might say.
Nearing my seat, I begin to think about how at 74 years of age, this –equally weathered as he is still full of life– guitarist is constantly reinventing himself and his sound. Starting his love affair with the guitar in his early teens in Wallington, England, ole Geoffrey Arnold Beck scrounged and worked to get scrappy guitars and the skills he would need to get invited to join the Yard Birds in 1965. You could say this was his big break, but he was already playing with a number of bands at the time. Eventually leading to his superb solo album Blow By Blow in 1975, Jeff was first directly inspired by the Billy Cobham album Spectrum. He says this work blew him away and opened his mind to exciting new realms. This is very much why Jeff often performs the song “Stratus” from this Spectrum album, just as he did in Saint Louis on July 28th. It’s a prog-rock-fusion masterpiece and Beck’s band flies through the tricky song with expert poise. “Nadia” is the third song in the set. The beauty of this song is hard to express in words. It is one of my personal favorites songs of all time. From his 2001 album You Had It Coming, this is another cover, but from a completely different style than 70’s fusion. The melody is haunting and pierces the soul. In the original song by Nitin Sawhney the melody is sung by a woman in the Hindi tongue:
“Nadiya bair bhai (even the rivers have turned hostile)
Mora saiyyan bulave (my lover beckons me)
Sune nahi (but you wouldn’t listen)“
The Mahavishnu Orchestra share a special history with Jeff Beck, as Billy Cobham was in Mahavishnu and John McLaughlin used to tour with Jeff. He even gave Jeff a prized Stratocaster. These little details are so important to the story, and “You know, You know” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra was also covered by Beck and his band on this special night. It is a delicate piece with a huge dynamic range; from whispering silence between blaring outburst, this is the music of the soul.
Vocalist Jimmy Hall came on stage to belt out a few songs and those numbers were solid as a rock. The Sam Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come” was a standout. After a few songs, even another new one, Jeff told the audience dryly, “This is my version of this song. So that’s that” and proceeded to bring down the house with a perfect rendition of “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix. From a guitarist perspective, what more could you possibly ask from the man on stage? He is a wise wizard with many a spell. Like a kaleidoscope, he shifts his fractal image from song to song. The set ebbs and flows, churning into the heavy “Big Block” with very meaty riffs. Only to settle down once again and pull on our heartstrings with the classic “Because We’ve Ended As Lovers”. Which was originally written by Syreeta Wright. Beck’s version is up there with any legendary blues-drenched guitar-piece. He wails, and it could bring tears to your eyes. It’s rare to find a musician who is truly virtuoso and capable of expressing so many emotions through an instrument, but these qualities exist clearly in Jeff Beck. The crowd screamed for him and he seemed to be a bit overcome by the love. “It’s nice to be appreciated” he sheepishly said to the thousands of fans begging him on. A career like his deserves and commands this kind of respect, and it is well earned.
He closed out the set with “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder; which is a song Jeff actually helped write. The guitar riff is iconic and sounded better than ever. Funk-driven disco-rock that sweeps into the eternally catchy vocal hooks. Perfection. A staple of Jeff Beck live performances is his rendition of “A Day In The Life” by the Beatles. Again, words cannot express, but an artist of this caliber that has the ability to sing with his instrument is truly something to behold. Something to cherish. The whole crowd knows the words to this classic song, and it is a joy to hear it performed in this uniquity. The orchestral and slithering wind-up of the song culminates in that thundering noise we are so ready for. A pause and the classic and huge E chord rings out to close the song. A Jeff Buckley tribute follows: “Corpus Christi”. Delicate and heartfelt.
Fittingly, the last song was the blues classic “Going Down” by Don Nix. Covered by quite a few great guitar-slingers but Jeff Beck has cemented it as one of his classic songs just the same. Featured on his 1972 album Jeff Beck Group, the riff is classic and the message is one of rock and roll glory in the face of heartache and blues. It’s fun and it rocks. “I’ve got my head out the window, and my big feet on the ground, yes I have.”
Yes, you do, Jeff, yes you do.
View Jeff Beck concert photos from his performance at The Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in St. Louis on July 28th.