Review/photos - by Joe Saccomanno
Salamanca, NY - As the sun was setting last Friday night, Jeff Beck walked onto the outdoor stage at the Seneca Alleghany Casino, with a gleaming white Fender Telecaster in hand, and did what he simply does best - play guitar. For the next two hours, he absolutely hypnotized the near capacity crowd with his six-string prowess.
After a week of reports of this show being off, then on again, after the news broke earlier in the week about ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill injuring his hip (which occurred due to nasty fall he suffered on the band's tour bus) and the Tres Hombres postponing their tour, the end result was Jeff Beck having an audience all to himself for once. Not wanting to disappoint his fans, Beck took the setback in stride and decided to continue on by playing a few dates on his own.
The fact remains - Jeff Beck is a guitar legend. And he has done it longer and better than anybody else. This past June, Beck celebrated his 70th birthday. He does not show his age when playing. His nimble fingers fly over the fret board and attacks the strings with the speed and grace of a much younger man. His unique style is awe inspiring, considering he no longer plays using a guitar pick. He gave up plectrum (pick) style playing in 1981, on the "There and Back" tour, in favor of a finger picking style.
It seemed as though Beck has left behind his contemporaries like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page by playing to a much younger crowd. Opening act, Tyler Bryant, is only 23 and lists Beck as one of his major influences. But as diverse in age as the crowd was, one thing was clear, they came to see one of the greatest guitar players ever, and Jeff Beck did not disappoint them.
Beck started his career in the 60’s playing with iconic names like the Yardbirds (with Page), Rod Stewart, Keith Moon, Ronnie Wood, John Paul Jones and Nicky Hopkins and also worked with legendary producers Steve Cropper and George Martin. Beck is also notorious for never having played with one group for any great length of time. Becks’ latest lineup includes Rhonda Smith on bass, Jonathan Joseph on drums, Nicolas Meier on guitar and Jimmy Hall on vocals.
Opening the show with a thunderous “Loaded” and “Nine,” 2 new songs from an upcoming album slated to be released by Warner/Rhino Records, Beck and the band hit the stage hard, rocking from the opening notes banged out by drummer Joseph. Beck’s command of the guitar is immediately noticeable from the first notes he played. His finger picking style allows for lead lines and chords at the same time. It’s Meier’s job to lay down the rhythm (which he does well), leaving Beck to solo and improvise at will. “Hammerhead” let Jeff’s fingers fly over his guitar with a wild, yet controlled abandon, keeping every note in it's place. The tremolo bar wailed and the guitar sound was now in full force. Jimmy Hall joined the group for “Morning Dew” and his southern soul style of singing fit perfectly in with Beck’s tight group. Pulling out a harmonica for ”Why Give It Away” (a song from “Yosogai” - a 3 song EP released earlier this year in Japan), Hall’s strong vocals really shined on Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” with the whole crowd on it's feet, singing along.
Beck brought the show to a whole new level with the song, “Stratus.” The Billy Cobham number features a funky bass and drum line that let Beck soar the lead notes over the underlying rhythm. This is what separates Jeff Beck from all other guitarists playing today. His leads are perfect. Staccato runs, bending wails and power chords, his hands always moving and stretching strings to put together fills and solos that sound almost synthesized. The sounds he makes with a guitar are almost unreal. I say, "almost," because you know they are real because you are there, with him right there in front of you, doing it.
“Goodbye Pork Hat”/"Brush With the Blues" and “Little Wing” let Beck show roots and blues guitar influences from Les Paul, Chet Atkins and Steve Cropper, elegantly played with the skill of a Master. “Superstition” and “Big Block” brought the faithful to their feet again and they never sat back down. Ending the show with “A Day in the Life” left everyone screaming for more.
After a short break, the band was back onstage for the encores. Beck was in complete command here, driving his band mates to churn out the powerful wall of sound that the Casino crowd saluted with fists in the air. The second encore song started with a solo by Beck, picking some wild rock-a-billy riffs that included the “Beverly Hillbillies Theme,” which wound up being a comical intro to the rocking number, “Rollin' N Tumblin',” from the 2000 masterpiece album “You Had It Coming.” As a follow up to the perfectly played “'Cause We've Ended As Lovers,” Jeff corralled the band into a rousing “Wild Thing” to finish the show.
Joined onstage by Tyler Bryant, it was fun to see the two guitarists, Master and student, trade licks and runs to the delight of the crowd and also the band. Even an added extra verse could not satisfy the hungry crowd. Jeff and band left the stage with the crowd yelling for more. On the way out, he grabbed the mic and gave the crowd a heartfelt thank you not only for being a great audience that night, he also thanked them for their unwaivering support. You know the crowd was feeling the same way about him. Thank you Jeff for continuing to play “over all these many years.”
Thank you to Tony Astran for allowing RMS to cover this show.