Concert Hall, April 21
Of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, the three guitar superstars spawned by ’60s band the Yardbirds, Beck was the one who best avoided burning most of the interest out of his musicianship in the first 15 years. He alone continued to expand his horizons into the new century, thanks to placing his distinctive playing in a variety of rock, blues, funk and jazz-rock contexts.
This tour, too, featured new developments. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and bassist Tal Wilkenfeld were gone, replaced by the similar virtuoso clutter of Jonathan Joseph and Rhonda Smith. The newcomers provided an undeniably groovier backdrop for Beck, however, aided by the fourth member now being another guitarist, Nic Meier, rather than a keyboards player.
A bigger change was the part-time addition of a singer, Beth Hart, to a project that has been staunchly instrumental for decades. Hart, a bluesy-soul stylist who has lapped at the Janis Joplin gene pool, was also the support act, where she showed that her relationship to understatement was akin to a fire engine’s to pink.
But when she finally joined Beck deep into his set a storming A Change Is Gonna Come drew out the guitarist’s finest (and shortest) solo of the night. Alas she was gone after one song, not returning until the encores, whereupon she hurled herself into Rollin’ and Tumblin’ and Going Down. Despite a tendency to shriek she was good for the music, reducing the bombast quotient that easily crept up as Beck and band obscured the material’s distinctive moods and feels with alarmingly similar improvising trajectories.
Nonetheless there was times when Beck’s soloing was just mesmerising. Despite a pallet-load of pedals lying between his Stratocaster and his Marshall 100 so much of that quality was down to his touch; to his ability to colour each note anew, playing, as ever, with his thumb rather than a plectrum. A highlight was the soft-focus psychedelia of the Beatles’ A Day In The Life.