Beck’s mix of power and emotion almost defies belief

By Calvin Palmer

Jeff Beck tore into the hearts and minds of a Jacksonville audience last night with the searing tones of his guitar. There are guitarists and then there is Jeff Beck. His virtuoso performance at the Florida Theatre demonstrated just why fellow guitar legend Eric Clapton describes Beck as the most innovative guitarist in the world.

Florida Theatre, Jacksonville. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved. Ricoh GRD III.

The near sell-out crowd greeted Beck’s driving rhythms and amazing licks with unbridled enthusiasm. They knew they were in the presence of a true master of his craft. Some of Beck’s solos, the sheer dexterity, had me shaking my head in disbelief as well as adulation.

In the course of his set, Beck raised and lowered the tempo to perfection, allowing both the band and the audience to draw breath for the next sonic onslaught. He covered a wide spectrum of genres – rock, jazz fusion, blues, soul, and rockabilly – each one receiving Beck’s unique style and treatment.

With a career spanning more than 40 years, Beck has accumulated a vast repertoire. His latest album Emotion & Commotion featured prominently in the set list but Beck turned the clock back and reached into his musical past. I was lucky in that two of my all-time favourites – Big Block from Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989) and Brush With The Blues from the 1999 Who Else! album – received an airing.

Jeff Beck, Florida Theatre. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.* Ricoh GRD III.

The last time I saw Beck was in 1990 at Manchester’s Apollo Theatre. On that occasion his fellow musicians were Terry Bozzio and Tony Hymas on keyboards, the latter providing the bass.

Last night, Beck’s band featured Rhonda Smith on bass, Jason Rebello on keyboards and the legendary Narada Michael Walden on drums. That is some line-up, particularly Smith who takes bass playing into another dimension pretty much in the same manner as Beck’s guitar playing.

Beck is normally the kind of musician who lets his music do the talking. The previous two times I saw him, the first being in 1972 at the Students’ Union at Manchester University, he never addressed the audience. Last night, not only did he speak on a couple of occasions but also conducted the crowd’s response in Led Boots. He even shared a joke near the end of the set when he donned a pair of sunglasses looked down at the fretboard and then said, “Now I can see what I’m playing.”

Another feature of last night’s concert was the inclusion of several rock and pop covers – A Day In The Life and Something by the Beatles, Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix and I Want To Take You Higher by Sly and The Family Stone. Becks’ version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow and Nessun Dorma, which both feature on his latest album, completed the range of his musical versatility.

With four encores — including How High The Moon as a tribute to Les Paul when Beck switched from his trademark Fender Stratocaster to a Gibson Les Paul, well it had to be, didn’t it – Beck further endeared himself to the Jacksonville audience.

As he acknowledged the crowds cheers and applause, Beck touched his heart and then the bicep of his right arm. That sums up his music — power and emotion — the ingredients that have fueled his creativity and playing throughout five decades.

*If anyone would like to donate $500 so that I can buy a Ricoh GXR P10 camera in order to take better shots of bands playing on stage, feel free to click the donate button at the top of the page. 🙂

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