Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall

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.

Image from many-pixels via Creative Commone license

Image from many-pixels via Creative Commone license

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.

Van Morrison: performing ‘Astral Weeks’ at the Royal Albert Hall: presale info

Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is rightly considered to a great album by a great artist. I’ve never been the world’s biggest Morrison fan, but you can’t deny the man’s talent for infusing bluesy emotive singing with jazzy musical forms.

Late last year, Morrison – apparently in better vocal form than he’s been for decades – performed the album in its entirety at the Hollywood Bowl. That performance has been released as an acclaimed live album. And he’s taking to the road to perform it again.

Van Morrison will be performing Astral Weeks twice at the Royal Albert Hall, on Saturday 18-April and Sunday 19-April. Tickets go on general sale for those shows tomorrow. But LiveNation members can get presale tickets right now, right here. If you’re not a member you can sign up there for free. I’m going Sunday night.


“I’m collectin’ vinyl”

Another big gig night: R.E.M.

After returning from a day out in Winchester, we made tracks for the Royal Albert Hall. The concert event there was in celebration of the 60th anniversary of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. There were four bands playing, and in a gorgeous setting like the Hall I wanted to be there to see them all. Luckily, I’d been able to score good seats on the lower tier.

The first act were one of the NME-buzz-bands-of-the-moment, Foals. They’ve got a hard-grooving indie rock sound, and their songs are mostly long dancey jams with a singer who sounds like he stepped right out of 1983. I liked the sound, but each song sounded too much the same to me. The crowd were polite.

The second act was my favourite rock band of the moment, The Duke Spirit. They ripped it up as normal, but the Royal Albert is a pretty cavernous place for what is essentially a garage band. The crowd seemed to like them okay. Funnily, I already had tickets to see The Duke Spirit play the following night, long before I knew they’d be at this show.

The third act was British folk rocker Robyn Hitchcock. Although I knew his name I knew nothing about Hitchcock or his career. He played several wry, catchy acoustic guitar songs, but accompanied by legendary Led Zeppelin member John Paul Jones on mandolin. For his last couple of songs, he brought out some of the members of R.E.M., with whom Hitchock has a side band called The Venus 3. Their final song, “Olé Tarantula”, was fun. There was also a fun aside when some woman up in the gallery started screaming her head off – not sure at what, and she quieted down after a few minutes.

The headliners were, of course, veteran indie-rockers R.E.M. I saw them playonce before in Hyde Park. That show was a huge, miles-away outdoor sun-fest, and I was keen to see them play in this relatively small venue (especially since their summer dates back in the UK will be as festival headliners or at the massive Twickenham rugby stadium).

The band were really good. They were relaxed: engaged, but not trying to hard. They joked and talked a bit, and seemed to have fun with the room. They tried out what sounded like the entirety of upcoming album Accelerate. That album is scheduled for release next week, but it’s leaked already and I’ve listened to it several times. The buzz around it is true: it’s a return to rockin’ (if not innovative) form for R.E.M., and it’s the best sounding thing they’ve done in some time. We were therefore lucky enough to be familiar with all those new songs, and really enjoyed hearing the band work them out live.

They also played a handful of old faves like “Electrolite”, crowd fave “Losing My Religion”, “Drive”, and big closer “Man on the Moon”. They also played “The Great Beyond” and “Imitation of Life”, although I don’t think either of those recent songs are as good as any of the tracks from Accelerate.

The crowd was certainly pleased, as the band sounded good no matter what they played, and in a venue small enough to make it a special occasion.

There are a couple of early reviews in the Independent and the Metro.

EDIT: and now one in the Guardian.