Jeff Beck has become one of the most striking performer's in the history of the guitar. While he has played the guitar for several decades he continually seeks new ways to ply his art, develop, and renew his music. Indeed, his musical output, and guitar playing, is a delicate fusion of all the influences he has sought, explored, and absorbed. He is a guitar player with a "real" difference, who tends not to sound bland.
Jeff's return to The Royal Albert Hall attracted fans from around the globe. Outside the venue I spoke to some people who had traveled from Sweden, Italy, and New Jersey. An exuberant, tribal gathering came to secure Jeff's place as one of rock's genuine icons. Inside, the hall was packed to capacity; the audience murmured with expectation. I was fortunate to be seated in the eighteenth row with a clear view of the stage.
From the moment the band took to the stage and began the whispered, rhythmic accompaniment to "Beck's Bolero" – Jeff entered "stage right" clad all in white, playing the melody on his cream and white strat – it was clear the sound was warm and mixed to perfection. Not as loud as in Belfast, but the band still performed with incredible confidence, save for some momentary glitches.
While Jeff's confidence is clearly at an all time high – and long may it last – there were moments during the concert when Jeff and fellow band members appeared overly conscious and, to a degree, overawed by the intimacy and atmosphere of the occasion. However, an exchange of smiles, a flurry of nimble fingers, and drum sticks, restored calm, and once more the band scaled new heights of musical triumph.
The hypnotic rhythm to "Pump" made you want to clap your hands, stand up, and rush the stage. Not acceptable behavior at this venue, I'm sorry to say. The combination of Tal Wilkenfeld's bass playing, combined with Vinnie Colaiuta's drumming was intoxicating. Then Jeff entered with his beautiful tone, melodies, and virtuosity which the rest of the group complemented, driving him to play licks that astounded, confounded, and inspired, to take you on a beautiful journey.
A run of songs let Jeff and the band explore different rhythms and sounds which were a delight to the eyes and ears. On the achingly beautiful melodies and rhythms of "Behind the Veil," "Angel," and "Nadia," the wonderful, intricate, drumming by Vinnie, and the characteristic weaving of lines by Tal on her bass, were overlaid with keyboard voicings by Jason. This combining of musical forces likewise made "Space Boogie," and "Led Boots" alternatively sweet and nasty.
Sometimes the music appeared to stretch in a particular direction – like an elastic band – to a point where it was about to break, then it turned, and retracted in another direction. Jeff continually displayed an ability to play with restraint, and subtlety, without losing intensity.
When Jeff plays the introduction to "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" I wish he would play the full version included on the Wired album, and play "Brush with the Blues" as a separate song. This night, however, belonged to Jeff and his band, and perhaps my preference for only "one guest" on stage was at variance with others in attendance. After a great, fast, rocky version of "Blue Wind" the band was joined by Imelda May to sing "Lilac Wine," (a song written by James Shelton in 1950). In my opinion Imelda does not possess the raw, haunting voice required to create the emotion and passion the song deserves.
The music Jeff and his band played went beyond black and white. It contained a myriad of different colours and shades that danced and stimulated an engrossed audience. Jeff, Tal, Vinnie, and Jason, bowed, and left the stage amid resounding applause, and a standing ovation. Jeff, and his band, not only touched the hearts of the faithful, but – I believe – also those witnessing them for the first time.
For two of the encores, Jeff and his band were joined on stage by Dave Gilmour to perform "Jerusalem," and "Hi Ho Silver Lining." Some fans speculated that Jimmy Page, or Eric Clapton, would participate at the event. In the end Dave Gilmour proved to be a good choice. Both guitarist's seemed to enjoy playing together, and while each has a distinctive style and tone, they proved inventive, and appeared to play their guitar's without effort. Jeff returned and played "Where Were You?" His performance was emotional and beautiful.
After the show I walked to the stage door where a considerable number of fans were waiting for Jeff to sign albums, CDs, DVDs, and other memorabilia. Most people seemed to be singing or humming "Hi Ho Silver Lining," while others' talked about the emotional and entertaining performance.
Several fans took photographs of the setlist I had acquired from the stage. I was aware that an after-party may be in progress to celebrate the success of the event for Jeff, the band, the crew, and organizers. Needless to say, some fans had flights to catch in the middle of the night. I caught the bus to King's Cross, and made my way to Islington. As I walked, the breathtaking music from the concert flooded through my mind.
Here is a photo of the setlist from the show.