Eloquent Guitar, Quiet Man- Wall Street Journal.
By JIM FUSILLI
The covenant between guitarist Jeff Beck and his audience is the same as it's been for most of his four-decade professional career. With little concession to show business or shifting musical trends, Mr. Beck mounts the stage, as he did here on Monday night, plays brilliantly, says good night and leaves. What we get for 80 minutes or so is his perfect attack, impeccable control, diverse sonic palette, and music that's both savage and beautiful. Would that everything in life were so direct and so thoroughly achieved.
Mr. Beck is in the U.S. for a tour that began here and concludes on April 23 in Oakland. (For more information, visit www.jeffbeck.com.) On Saturday, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the second time, now as a bandleader and solo artist; in 1992, he was installed, along with Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and others, as a member of the Yardbirds. There's something satisfying about the recognition he's received, which is for his playing rather than his pursuit of celebrity or his record sales. Even to his fans, the reticent Mr. Beck is less well known than those other '60s rock-guitar gods or his contemporaries in the Rolling Stones, who tried to recruit him prior to signing Ron Wood, a former Beck employee as was singer Rod Stewart.
By most accounts, when he's not playing music, the 64-year-old Mr. Beck would rather be home tinkering with his collection of vintage hot rods, which is no way to build celebrity. He was carrying his own guitar when I ran into him in the lobby of the hotel here. When I mentioned his double recognition by the Hall of Fame, he said with an impish smile, "I guess I can't cry for sympathy anymore."
At the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple, Mr. Beck and his band replicated much of the set that's on their recent album "Performing This Week . . . Live at Ronnie Scott's" (Eagle) and on the separate DVD of the same name that features two performances with Mr. Clapton. While Mr. Beck played with relative restraint at Ronnie Scott's, a London jazz club that seats 250 people, at the midsize venue here he emphasized power and volume, often locking in with bassist Tal Wilkenfeld before unleashing a blizzard of notes in the upper register while drummer Vinnie Colaiuta slugged away. Every now and then, he would play a complex line in unison with keyboardist Jason Rebello before soaring away on his own, the band staring at him for a cue that he was about to charge elsewhere.
[Jeff Beck] Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images
Jeff Beck at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But Mr. Beck's brand of jazz fusion is characterized by much more than brute force. He's the rare musician who infuses his heavy sound with a dollop of humor -- often expressed as an impossibly fast and knotty run, a stop-on-a-dime shift in direction or a sly, unexpected phrase.
Compact and fit with a rooster-like crop of bottle-black hair, a sleeveless shirt, leather pants and scuffed boots, Mr. Beck still resembles the rabble-rouser he was in his youth, and there's a faint touch of boyish joy in his stage presence. It emerged when he surprised himself with a dazzling bit of improvisation. His band mates often smiled at him while he played, as if amazed at his daring. When he was delighted, he let go of the guitar, raised his arms at his sides and laughed out loud. At a song's end, he put a little powder on his hands and then he went back to work, rarely allowing more than 30 seconds between numbers.
Mr. Beck didn't abandon his delicate side. Stevie Wonder's "Cause We've Ended as Lovers," which is probably Mr. Beck's signature song by now, was tender and piercing as the guitarist engaged in a bit of call-and-response with himself prior to a solo by Ms. Wilkenfeld, a wunderkind who's in her early 20s. The reggae number "Behind the Veil" found Mr. Beck plucking little notes to set up a rubbery solo as Mr. Colaiuta added clever accents on his cymbals. Later, on "Angels (Footsteps)," Mr. Beck displayed his control by playing slide guitar in the lower register as the song unfolded, then issuing notes that sounded like tweeting birds as the band withdrew. Mr. Beck's reading of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," in which he manages to generate all the dark whimsy and chaos of the original, earned him a standing ovation.
For Mr. Beck's first encore, he and Mr. Rebello played "Where Were You," a song so delicate it's almost brittle. When the band returned, Mr. Beck and Ms. Wilkenfeld dueted on the same bass -- as he established a pattern, she soloed above. A surprise reading of Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn Theme," with a quote from Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" tucked in the middle, closed the show. Prior to the "Gunn Theme," Mr. Beck went to a microphone set at the side of the unadorned stage. "Thank you so much," he said, uttering the only words he spoke other than when he introduced the band. Minutes later, he left the concert hall where he'd said so much with his performance.