The styles of iconic guitarists Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck could hardly be more different.
Guy is the father of flash, his sounds scrubbing and screaming coming from playing the guitar in ways never meant to be.
Beck is the prototypical intrinsic player – his licks so smooth and innate that the seem as if the guitar was simply an extension of his hands, and his heart.
Yet both proved Sunday at Sands Bethlehem Event Center they are among the best ever to play the instrument in a dual-headlining show that covered a wide range of styles, but always was entertaining.
Guy showed from the start the power in his hands – which on Saturday turn 80 – by blowing the doors open with a wrecking-ball, nine-minute version of the title track from his 1991 Grammy-winning album “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues.” And no one question that he did.
His opening set included full and abbreviated versions of 12-songs, but was just as enjoyable for his showmanship. In the 65-minute performance, he gave the near-sellout crowd lessons in both guitar playing and the blues.
“They don’t play this kind of blues on your radio,” he said during a wonderfully winding, 10-minute performance of “Five Long Years.” “Now when you turn your radio on – well, I won’t get into that. [But] I’m getting to the point where that’s not going to stop me from playing the blues.”
That song, with hits lyrics about working in a steel mill appropriate for the setting, started with Guy playing barely audible notes before, two minutes in, blasting into a screaming solo. It finished with a low an gentle coda of “Blues In The Night (My Mama Done Tol’ Me).”
Guy said he tells his band “just be ready guys, ‘cause I don’t know what the f—k I’m gonna do,” and his show felt like that – as if he was riffing his way along. And it was incredibly fun.
“Now I’m gonna give you a lesson,” he told the crowd before playing Muddy Waters’ “Louisiana Blues.” “This is how he did it before Jimi Hendrix.” The song ended with a wild wail, rubbing his guitar strings against the mic stand, that showed how much Hendrix owed to Guy’s style.
He educated the crowd on his newest disc, 2015’s Grammy-winning “Born to Play Guitar” with the title track – fiery licks and its fitting lyrics “show me the money and I’ll make this damned thing scream.”
Then he showed why, after a career of more than 60 years he remains one of the greats, with ripping performances of “Grits Ain’t Groceries (All Around the World)” – he showed how well he sings, too – and a 10-minute version of “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In).”
During the latter, he strolled through the crowd playing – even while he was walking up and down stairs. He even played with a drumstick.
He closed the door with a series of short versions of songs by other players: John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man,” B.B. King’s “Sweet Sixteen” and even Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t that Peculiar,” on which Guy sang falsetto.
He scolded a security guard who chased a woman trying to take a photo: “Leave her alone; she looks great. Don’t ever push a good-looking woman away.” And he quieted the crowd by saying, “Shut the f—k up, I’m gonna teach you something!”
(He explained his loose language by saying, “a few years ago I didn’t say that. I could have been fired. Since hip-hop came out, I can say what I want.”)
He ended his set by saying, “There was another guitar player hanging in New York, and he sounded like this” before launching into music by his most obvious protégé, Jimi Hendrix – playing with his teeth and putting his guitar atop an amp and strumming the strings.
Guy closed with a short version of Eric Clapton’s “Sunshine of You Love,” hitting the strings with a hand towel and rubbing them against his posterior.
“You know, I wish I could play all night,” Guy told the crowd. “You got me feeling good.”
That, too, was likely Guy’s showmanship, but if it wasn’t totally true for him, it was for the crowd.
By comparison, Beck’s 90-minute, 17-song set was far more subdued, but just as astonishing.
The 72-year-old, two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who’s observing his 50thanniversary of professional performing, opened with “The Revolution Will Be Televised,” singer Rosie Bones in the audience with a bullhorn.
Beck’s playing was unflaggingly interesting: Beautifully melodic but also precision-picked on “Highway Jam,” by turns speedy, searing and sympathetic on other songs – but always in the context of the song. For Beck, the music was the thing.
It wasn’t until the fourth song, “Live in the Dark,” with Bones singing, that he made his guitar cry and wail – and even when he didn’t it was a big sound – full and lush. On “The Pump” he showed his exception speed, playing in fiery bursts.
“A Girl Like You” also was largely about playing with speed and complexity, but Beck also finished by showing just how sympathetic he could make the music. His playing on “Big Block” was so complex and complicated, yet Beck played it so naturally you got the feeling he literally was born to play the guitar.
Beck’s best were his cover of Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew” with vocalist Jimmy Hall, which brought Beck back to his seminal blues rock. (Hall’s vocals also were very good on a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” and Beck’s sound again not just speedy, but big and full.)
And “O.I.L. (Can’t Get Enough of That Sticky),” with Bones singing, was great and funky – almost sneaky in how good Beck’s slide guitar was.
Beck wound down his main set with Bones singing on “Scared for the Children,” as sensitive and anguished as any guitarist out there, and a fast and funky “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” Beck inventive and playful, yet was as precise as the song required. He got a partial standing ovation.
Then a nice turn on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and “Right Now,” with Bones singing and Beck largely in the background.
For the encore of Muddy Waters’ “Little Brown Bird,” Beck took off the vest that had covered his T-shirt (to cheers) and fired licks in classic blues-rock style. Then he closed with a very sympathetic cover of The Beatles “A Day in the Life.”
Throughout his set, Beck didn’t address the audience once. To acknowledge the cheers, he simply folded his hands in front of him and bowed. That was, of course, in stark contrast to Buddy Guy’s flash.
But between them, the audience two of the greatest guitar players ever.
“Somebody got the blues tonight,” Beck’s vocalist Hall said before the final song. And that statement was never truer.
Source: The Morning Call.