Because I play guitar in a live band I’m always getting asked the question “Who’s your favorite guitarist?” I always answer the same. My favorite guitar player is Jeff Beck and although I’ve followed him for years I’ve never seen him play live. Jeff doesn’t tour the U.S. very often so when he does you better not miss it. I finally got my chance to see him do a live show at The Depot in Salt Lake City on April 13, 2011.
Four nights before the show at The Depot Jeff ended his ‘Rock-N-Roll Party’ tour. He then met up in Salt Lake with his band consisting of members Jason Rebello – Keyboards, Rhonda Smith – Bass and Narada Michael Walden – Drums. This is a very talented group of musician’s and they have been touring in support of Jeff’s latest album “Emotion And Commotion“.
It was a very interesting mix of people in the audience. The age range was from 21 years old to folks that looked to easily be in their 60’s and 70’s. That’s a testament to Jeff’s long career and popularity over those years. There was also a pretty good mix of men and women in the audience. Usually audiences coming to see guitarists are comprised primarily of men.
Jeff took the stage at The Depot following opening act Tyler Bryant who did a decent job of entertaining the crowd. Jeff and his band opened up with a one-two punch from Wired playing “Led Boots” and “Blue Wind”. Jeff then demonstrated his supreme musicianship with his latest Grammy winning song “Hammerhead” from ‘Emotion and Commotion’. The sound was fantastic and “Hammerhead” really got the crowd yelling and cheering.
The rest of the night was filled with rolling waves of music both fast and slow, rocking and soothing. Jeff Beck’s guitar skills on a Fender Stratocaster are simply amazing to hear. To watch him play the guitar is a study in how an instrument can become a part of the performer. Watching Jeff play is like watching someone have a conversation with another person. He makes it look effortless and the guitar seems to simply speak exactly what Jeff is thinking at that moment.
One of my favorite moments of the night was Jeff’s rendition of John Lennon’s classic Beatles tune “A Day In The Life“. Jeff Beck’s arrangement of this tune on the guitar is simply stunning in both it’s simplicity and it’s beauty. Jeff brings the beauty of the song’s melody right to fore and there is no need for the lyrics since we all know them anyway.
There were a few vocal numbers on the night. Rhonda Smith sang the rocking “Rollin’ And Tumblin'” and really nailed it with her soulful voice. Even drummer Walden took a turn singing the Jimi Hendrix song “Little Wing” which is a notoriously difficult song to sing. Walden did a decent job singing but it paled in comparison to Jeff Beck’s guitar playing on “Little Wing”. That’s okay because it was Jeff we wanted to hear anyway. I thought it was interesting that Jeff covered Jimi Hendrix who is one of the few guitarists which had the same command of a Fender Stratocaster that Jeff does.
Jeff played a couple of songs that had vocals on the album playing them without the vocals live. One was “Lilac Wine” from ‘Emotion And Commotion’ and the other was “People Get Ready” from the 80’s album Flash. Both songs went very well without vocals with the melodies played by Beck on guitar and Rebello on the keyboards.
Another highlight of the night came when Jeff announced “I wasn’t going to do this but I changed my mind!” He then proceeded to strap on a Gibson Les Paul guitar and play the Les Paul number “How High The Moon” with piped in vocals. It sounded to me like the vocals were recorded by Imelda May. Jeff’s guitar playing was perfect and it was cool to see him sporting a Les Paul guitar.
Jeff played two of the gentle numbers from ‘Emotion and Commotion’. He played his version of “Over The Rainbow” which is a difficult melody to cover on any instrument. Jeff Beck has mastered the vibrato technique that Judy Garland used to make this song come alive and Jeff really covers the song’s melody with emotion. Jeff closed the night with his amazing rendition of the classical song “Nessun Dorma” which he brought to life on a bed a strings laid down by Rebello on the keyboards and Smith playing an electric fretless bass with a bow. It was definitely a fantastic way to end the show.
I have to say that I am not a fan of the room at the Depot. I hate having to stand on a hard floor for two hours. The stage was also too low to the ground and anyone past the first row could only see the performers heads and shoulders. When watching a master guitarist like Jeff Beck you really want to see his hands on the guitar. They had some video screens but the camera shot was just a wide shot of the stage with no zooming in or angle changes on the performers. The ventilation sucks at The Depot and the narrow stairwell that serves as the only exit from the music venue gets extremely claustrophobic when exiting. It would only take one person to panic and start shoving for a disaster to happen there. Only an artist like Jeff Beck could get me to go to a show at The Depot. The only good thing I can say about The Depot was that the sound and lights were good at this show. I don’t know if that’s because of Jeff’s crew or The Depot’s.
Even though we had to suffer at The Depot, Jeff Beck’s performance was transcendent. If you ever get a chance to see Jeff Beck perform live don’t miss that chance! If you want to see a good live video of Jeff’s live performance then check out Jeff Beck Live At Ronnie Scott’s on Blu-Ray.