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Non-Prog Concert Reviews

Jeff Beck

Live in Adelaide, South Australia, January, 2009

Review by Bruce Stringer

With simmering weather conditions, the small horde of Jeff Beck fans gradually filled the Thebarton Theatre for the second of Beck’s shows for this tour, which was the first in Australia since January 1977. Anybody who remembered the shows 32 years on would be recalling a different act than this night as Beck was fronting his own band and wouldn’t be sharing the limelight with another jazz fusion legend. There was a hanging mood of curiosity coupled with a small amount of agitation as stories floated around about Beck’s refusal to politely deal with a small group of fans that contended with heat stroke and sunburn to catch a glimpse of the guitar legend in person. One of these fans traveled all the way from Iran to attend this show.
After the support act, who succeeded with kudos in taking the audience along an albeit well-trod path that John McLaughlin made decades earlier, left the stage, the crowd were well in the mood for some legendary axe work. But it wouldn’t be for some time…

The break grew longer and longer as the mood became that of aggression until – finally – the trio of uber-drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, the youthful Tal Wilkenfeld on bass and keysman, David Sancious, hit the stage with the classic 60s B-side, “Beck’s Bolero.” Within moments Beck suddenly appeared to strike the opening guitar line and the song was well under way. The mix was quite rough for those audience members close to the stage, with booming bass knocking out most other frequencies for the first 15 minutes. In fact, the boomy sound was incessant and made it very difficult to hear anything besides bass and drums.

“The Pump” was up next, slightly abbreviated and with much of the guitar signal drowned out by bass. The drumming was loud – really loud – with the subtleties that Simon Phillips had injected into the studio version now removed. It stomped along at a more upbeat pace and allowed Beck the freedom to warm up his signature acrobatics. Next was the re-arranged introduction to the Mahavishnu Orchestra classic, “Eternity’s Breath,” which attacked with a nasty bite and was dead-on equal to the recent version from Beck’s Ronnie Scott’s CD performance but, instead of segue-ing into “Stratus,” the group hit the funkier “You Never Know.” This lineup had mastered the slowed down chorus riff with an interesting tempo change, which was quite interesting.

By now, the sound issues were being sorted out.

From the classic Blow By Blow album, the delicate “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” was up next. This was one of Beck’s more widely known numbers and was also used as a vehicle for Wilkenfeld’s bass solo. Unfortunately, Colaiuta’s snare was left locked-on so the rattling offset the solo’s intrigue and mood.  The drumming was conspicuously hard, sans the dynamic nature of Richard Bailey’s studio drumming. The audience received it with enthusiasm but it was becoming evident that Beck was, at times, playing second fiddle to the sheer power and volume of the drums. This was no more obvious than on the equally quiet reggae number “Behind The Veil” from Beck’s most fruitful era with Terry Bozzio in the drum stool. The pulse bass-drum beat was doubled up, which made what was a spacey, intelligent piece into another harder edged musical experiment that lacked spatial aspects. Although newly arranged and decidedly less subtle than the Bozzio version, the constant thud and heavy-handed percussion work were just too much. It was mildly irritating that Colaiuta had taken such a nice piece and overplayed it to the Nth degree.

Following was the Beck-Jennifer Batten-Tony Hymas co-penned guitar fusion number, “Blast From The East,” with its topsy-turvy time signatures and Eastern style guitar line. As with the recent live CD arrangement, there was an odd, triplet feel running through the drumming that seemed somewhat out of place against the straighter, creatively constructed time signatures. Any misgivings were soon forgotten as the straighter bass and drum stabs of the iconic Cobham title, “Stratus,” burst from the stage. Here, Colaiuta stood on solid ground as the drums were considerably more in focus and it didn’t take long for Beck to do his best Tommy Bolin impression whilst Sancious played Jan Hammer with a flick of the wrist. “Stratus” had been in Beck’s set for some years now and was one of the stronger items on this night.

As a change of pace, the softer “Angel (Footsteps)” piped along next with its near-reggae pumping rhythms. Skating on the thin line between New Age and contemporary sounds, the separation was clearly defined by Beck’s incredible – if not slightly unorthodox – slide guitar playing. His slide work had been underplayed over the years, thanks to his mastery over the whammy bar, but in the live field it was a visual feast for the senses.

The showcasing of the instrumentalists was continued with a drum solo that segued into the Wired LP opener, “Led Boots.” The off-time introduction (originally recorded by ex-Mahavishnu alumni, Narada Michael Walden) was always a showstopper and in Adelaide it was no different. This brought about a raising in mood and the track’s solos went from strength to strength. Even Wilkenfeld’s bass work seemed tighter as the boys improvised their way towards eternity and back. The closing 7/8 riff worked a wonder and the audience were well pleased.

Instead of trying to top that, to follow was the neo-hit “Nadia” with its whammy-bent Indian melody lines. The commerciality of “Nadia” really changed the direction of the show but to see Beck reprise his incredible tremolo arm work was a wonder. The original’s electronic percussion worked much better live with a living, breathing drummer in full form. Wilkenfeld’s bass solo followed, preceding a new instrumental piece, which may be the track “Snake Oil” (from the forthcoming studio album). This had a jammy feel and focused on a chromatic line that substituted as a melody of sorts. It was new and somewhat interesting but lacked the direction of Beck’s fusion-era classics. However, it was nice to hear something new and obviously still a work in progress.

The coupling of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and “Brush With The Blues” took the small hall into slower, moodier blues territory. This was homage to his roots and was some of his most passionate playing on this night as Beck contorted around on stage squeezing those notes. The rhythm section was tight. And, thankfully, not as overplayed. It seemed that the simple and dynamic worked the treat that was expected and the coupling delivered some memorable moments.

Staying with the bluesier of numbers, the Guitar Shop stomper, “Big Block”, pounded through the speakers and picked up some extra bass inflections. Although a little more labored (than with Bozzio) it plodded along with some cool playing and shocking accents. And, returning to the crowd pleasers, “Blue Wind’s” harmony lines and rocking riff work picked the tempo up again for what would be the penultimate tune of the set. Sancious returned with more prominence to the mix and played up a storm alongside speed racer Beck and his pit crew. It was interesting to note that, during the show, where the interplay was more inclined to the Hammer-Beck harmony lines, the strengths were evident and no more than with “Led Boots” and “Blue Wind.”

Post-track acrobatics, Beck’s guitar had a minor tuning problem, which was solved quite quickly as a fan called out, “Constipated Duck.” Beck stared on at the sea of faces, neither impressed nor humored at the remark, which seemed to sum up the general mood of the band. “A Day In The Life” – the Beatles’ legendary number – was to close the show with the original imagery that Beck had been working into the covers of the recent decade. It was a great climax and the audience rose to a standing ovation for the short-lengthened set.

The first encore was another new number, also an instrumental, which had been titled “Scottish One” on a recent set list. It had a great Celtic flavor to it and was definitely one of the standout performances of the show. This was quite a short piece and might indicate a new direction for Beck, a style that, although quite obvious, he had only dabbled in with few numbers like the immortal “Declan.” This encore was over and the band was offstage with haste once more.

After the intense build-up of fan energy, Beck returned with Sancious to perform his exercise in whammy bar magic, “Where Were You.” This was a considerably consistent performance and was faster to accommodate the lack of delay feedback and sustain of the original – and the intense technical nature of the mathematical calculations to perform this tune with validity. Again, the fans showed their appreciation with a standing ovation but that was it. Beck had left the scene of the crime with his trio in tow and they weren’t to return.

Sadly “Space Boogie,” which was played during rehearsal, didn’t appear at all in the final set list, which was a little disappointing considering the short running time. Being the first time Beck had played in Australia in 32 years – and the promise of “something special for Australian audiences ” in a recent TV interview – there were more than a few gripes about the exorbitant cost compared to what was actually delivered.

Of the keyboard playing that could be heard, Dave Sancius managed to do well, even though the last chord on one song was totally wrong, as evidenced by the surprised looks on the groups’ faces. It would have been nice to hear more as he seemed such an involved player. Colaiuta’s drumming was hard and aggressive – and technically incredible - though it would have been nice for some softer dynamics and extra space for the other soloists.

Jeff Beck may be part of the holy trinity of axe wielding, but the draw cards of the show seemed to be the grinning starlet, Wilkenfeld, and “Sting’s drummer,” Colaiuta. The fusion-era material seemed more familiar to the audience and this was received with huge roars of appreciation. There seemed to be something missing: after seeing Beck live in the past – and being a diehard fan from way back – the Australian shows might have been used as warm-ups for other, more important dates. All in all, it was great that Jeff Beck returned to Australia because – although he may not see this as a valid market for his music – there are fans willing to brave any and all conditions to see him.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 2 at
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