Review by Bokonon
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Jeff Beck invented the electric guitar. Shut up.
Les Paul, Link Wray, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Listen to “Over Under Sideways Down” and learn.
Somewhere along the way, after inventing British blues, psychedelia, and fusion, Beck dropped his pick and never picked it up off the floor, using instead the fat left side of his thumb as a tone generator of Olympian proportions.
He put that thumb to Strat at the Palace Tuesday night, in a bizarre paring with Beach Boy Brian Wilson and his personal tribute band.
Beck burned. The selections weren’t necessarily top notch, but it rarely mattered. His band was good. Not great. Actually, they were OK. There wasn’t a Richard Bailey to put his fist through the snare, or even a Max Middleton to foil, but it worked.
And it worked because of Beck and his thumb. Dear god, the sounds he strangles out of a six-string. Cliff Gallup via downtown no wave; violin in heat; Jimmy Wyble gone bad. It just goes on and on.
Here’s the thing about Clapton. Watch him. When he’s on his game and not playing the genteel elder statesman in a PBS special about the loss of funk in American life, he’s inhabiting the instrument. Each note is a negotiation. Each sound is a sculpture — middle pickup, tone 7, volume 8, bend, release.
Beck takes it even farther, leaning back with a flourish to jack the Marshall a tad higher, leaning down on the whammy bar, hard, letting go, reaching for the high frets… bam.
He’s playing the air, he’s rolling the Higgs Boson between his fingertips.
At the Palace, he gave all. There was humor in his playing. That only comes with mastery. There was mirth, sadness and perhaps more than anything, there was longing. This, kids, is what the shredders miss. The sheer length of the note, the purity of attack, intent, the listening for the heartbeat.
Beck has the ear for it. And the hands. Even Clapton says it’s all in Beck’s hands.
Towards the end of Beck’s graceful set, Wilson’s gang made their way back to stage, lending voices to the mix — a “Surf’s Up” chorale for Fender and falsetto. The wordless parts were wondrous, floating, ethereal.
“Barbara Ann” was more Beach Boys bullshit, but at least Beck impaled it. Seven guitars? Really? With Jeff Beck onstage? Please.
Classic rock is a dead dog, its tongue stuck to the sidewalk. Brian Wilson is a joke. Sue me. But Beck, even at his loungiest, moves forward. The thumb.
Paul Rapp’s review at Metroland
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Beck blew away any doubts this strange pairing could work with sheer, tremendous power; a towering display of guitar mastery and small-band dynamics — five pieces to Wilson’s 12. Beck plucked his guitar with fingers (they must be made of steel) and used whammy bar and volume knob to shape notes in mid-air. Some recognizable songs emerged from his quintet’s funky, fiery flow: Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “You Know You Know,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” his own “Big Block.” But the song itself seldom mattered; what Beck did with each invariably did. Wilson was right, Beck could play anything his fertile mind could conjure to power his hands and push the band.
NOTE: Jeff Beck and Brian Wilson perform on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” tonight (Thursday, October 10) at 12:30am.