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Author Topic: Critic At Large, Volume IV: Jeff Beck - Post Script  (Read 2349 times)


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Critic At Large, Volume IV: Jeff Beck - Post Script
« on: October 31, 2011, 06:19:40 pm »

(For those who are interested, the story started here, last year:

Jeff Beck came to Portland (the Oregon version) last night. Months ago I had scored two seats in the ninth row, center, at Schnitzer Concert Hall - a converted 1920‘s Art Deco movie theater with a seating capacity of 2500 - to me, an ideal venue in this town for such a show.

I let the thought of whom to take percolate for a month, knowing that, in an pinch, I’ll be able to beat the damn scalpers off by offering my spare ticket at face value, and as late as a few minutes before the show, right in front of the Schnitz. As much as I tried in the intervening time, every suitable candidate I asked gave me a respectful, though unenthusiastic, response: “nah, he’s great, and I used to like him with Jan Hammer, but...”

Through the decades, JB has lost a number of fans through inevitable attrition from slowed-down cultural metabolism that seems to be part of growing older for most of us. Plus life's relentless pull of gravity (Jimmy Fallon on the flatscreen is indeed easier than getting vertical, putting on a coat and hitting downtown on a Saturday night, and he’s mocking rock&roll too, isn’t he?); add to that JB's penchant for continuously reinventing himself musically- a kind of Bob Dylan on the whammy bar, and you get just marginal enticements for many older folks to shell out a C-note or more for two seats.

The date approached. Still no sight of a die-hard fan among my acquaintances whom I could make happy with a primo seat. And the wife was also not one of the usual fifteen percenters- those females genuinely interested in JB’s offerings, or at least willing to support their male companions on an outing to mingle with still more graying and balding gents of diminished testosterone output.

So why not initiate my nine-year-old into the secrets of refined tone and power through four old Plexi Marshalls into a couple of 4x12s?

“Who’s Jeff Beck?” he asked. I took a deep breath; but, rather than singing praise to the most influential electric guitar player who never had any influence on anyone’s actual guitar playing because he is so good and so unique, and rather than rattling off seminal way stations of JB’s forty-plus-year career, I realized these abstractions were utterly pointless for someone his age. “Just check it out, it will be interesting!” is all I managed to reply. There went my $75 ticket.

Indeed, peeking over the ornate balcony into the Schnitzer Hall’s foyer, it became painfully clear: we may still be faithful fans, but we have all aged in the process of following an artist who just stuck around so damn long, and dared to stay relevant too damn long for it not to be reflected in our receding hairlines and gravity-yielding postures.
Yes, we are the first generation growing old along with the same people who started a musical revolution; we are pioneers in an experiment of redefining cultural vitality into old age-as creators and audience alike. (I think of the current-day Rolling Stones as foremost pioneers of an unapologetic, adult attitude and continued appreciation for rhythm and blues, rather than surrendering to the concept of rock&roll as a passing juvenile phase that one eventually outgrows and replaces with adulthood’s sobriety.)

After the 20-year-old opening act had finished splattering his enthusiastic but unfocussed blues energy all over the stage, and when, without ado, JB and his three companions stepped right into the cobalt-blue hues of the extra-wide, smoke-filled stage, it was immediately apparent to me that this was going to be a seminal show: Superb balance of tone (those Marshalls, again!), effortless interplay and mastery of left and right hand techniques, clean or distorted, loud or whisper-soft- JB’s expressions of impeccable taste on the Stratocaster were sublime. I would not call Stevie Ray Vaughn or other, much lesser, Strat slingers true heirs to Jimi Hendrix. It is Jeff Beck who deserves that title. No one has taken that instrument to such depths and heights, no one has coaxed such tonal variety, such sweet sustain, such whammy-bent overtone mastery out of a Strat since. Most of all, what little bit of show-off JB used to be, it’s gone:  No more throw-away lines to prove that he can ‘still do it’ at age 67.  Finally, all of his playing is in service to musical expression.

We can quibble whether his quiet, masterful solo-rendition of “Over the Rainbow” bumps up against kitsch, or whether the band's fiery encore of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” went over the line, but, boy, did that band sound vital, alive, riding the wave, while clearly having fun, and for everyone to see.

Longtime Prince associate Rhonda Smith, though no Tal Wilkenfeld on the bass, fit right in with Beck’s new-old friend on drums with her funkified, slap-happy style.
Speaking of drums: last time I had seen Narada Michael Walden (whom I knew from his days of producing Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin in the ’80’s) play the drums was in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, ca. 1977, in San Fran, where I remember him as an incredibly fast, fluid fusion player, prominently featuring his double kick work. Those rapid-fire batterings were often too fast to make out in a large hall.

Thirty-four years later, let’s drink to the paradox of advancing age: JB and Narada Michael Walden have simply and unexplainably gotten better over the decades, they are not showing the deterioration of wear and tear from the road, from endless bus and plane rides and shitty roadside food. Somehow they seem to be holding up better than most of us gently used 9 to 5ers of similar age.

There is something archetypal in what I saw last night- a redefining of what it means to be still at the prime of one’s artistry well into the sixties. Compare that to the lives and arc of our fathers, even just a short generation ago (that is, unless you are lucky, or, like JB, you lived the drug-free, vegan, charmed country estate life, free from worry about a roof over your head or about a doctor’s visit you can’t afford!)

At least for me the lesson of the night was: good for you, Jeff Beck! You still make relevant music that makes me happy with your harmonic probing, your sweet notes that get me teared up!  And: thanks for not prostituting yourself by rehashing old crap as bands like the Eagles do. Thanks for not selling me nostalgia at mega-buck ticket prices, just so I can pretend to feel like 25 again.

Just now, I asked my son “So, what did you think about last night’s concert?”

Here is hoping that something else that night attached itself to his musical memory...
Klaus Heyne
German Masterworks®


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Re: Critic At Large: Volume IV Jeff Beck - Post Script
« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2011, 07:27:05 pm »

Wow, What a great review, and story. Really well done Klaus. You most certainly picked the best person to take to the show. We should all think that way. It's not ourselves who need to be gratified or graced by the greats from the decades past, it's the younger generation that will see it for alls it's naked art value. Even if not today, the memory always creeps into ones life eventually.

Great stuff.

Victor Mason
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Maker of the Dirty Boy Amp. The Studio Secret Weapon for guitarists.


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Re: Critic At Large: Volume IV Jeff Beck - Post Script
« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2011, 08:30:55 pm »

Great recap of the evening with your son.  To me, being with your son was the most important part of the evening.  He might forget JB, but he probably won't forget the evening with his dad.  Good for you, dad!
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