Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall5 July 2009
Most people like a guitar played in some fashion. Not everyone likes a lot of guitar, though, and even fewer would care for an entire evening of guitar instrumentals. “Fewer” is a relative term, though: there were at least enough of us six-string aficionados to fill the Royal Albert Hall last night and watch the legendary Jeff Beck play.
I arrived late and missed much of support act Imelda May (I needed a drink; it was a hot day). She sounded good, though, a great voice and look for some jumping rock ‘n’ roll.
And then it was two hours of Jeff Beck. He – dressed all in white – and his band strolled out and launched into song. And that worked because Beck coaxes stories out of his guitar. Despite not using very much in the way of electronic effects pedals, and guest vocals on only two songs in two hours, he was able to express an incredible range of sound. His plectrum-less technique gives him amazing control of his volume dial and whammy bar, producing tones that sound like singing. And his style goes all over the place: mostly rock but also jazz, with middle eastern and reggae flourishes.
He kicked it off with “Beck’s Bolero” and kept going with songs old and new. I knew only a few by name: “Behind the Veil”, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, and the crunching “Big Block”. But all were soulful, genuine songs. Beck doesn’t always play fast, though he certainly can if he needs to. He’s more concerned with tone, and creating something that perfectly fits the song. It was amazing to watch him effortlessly let this thing loose. It didn’t get tired or boring. Each song was a fresh and interesting and self-contained bit of musical mastery. At the end of the set he performed an amazing version of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”: easily identifiable, but with lots of Beck twists.
His band was great. Tal Winkenfeld, only 23 years old and playing a bass which nearly dwarfs her, was absolutely stellar.
We screamed and clapped for an encore. He obliged with “The Peter Gunn Theme”.
And then he obliged by bringing goddamn David Gilmour onto stage.
They played two songs – surely a perfect storm of guitar-fu – and Gilmour and Beck each sang a verse of Beck’s ’60s hit “Hi Ho Silver Lining”. Amazing.