Belfast is anything but dull. The city centre oscillates between menace and refurbished high culture. The recently renovated Ulster Hall is a fitting venue for Jeff Beck's first concert in Ireland. The Victorian Hall has played host to some of the finest artists and groups to grace this planet, including Rory Gallagher, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, and Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green. I'm sitting in the sixth row – centre stage – I give in to nostalgia, and think of some of the great concerts I have experienced at this venue. I visualize the artists', and hear fragments of their music with each beat of my pulse.
After the support act, the absence of a vocalist, I feel, will not be missed when the main act takes to the stage. The auditorium is silent, in semi-darkness, the stage looks larger. I gaze at the red backdrop which creates a sunken world of calm and expectation. The lights dim.
Tonight – a sold-out audience – is treated to an absorbing performance by Jeff and his powerhouse of a band incorporating drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta; keyboardist, Jason Rebello; and bass guitarist, Tal Wilkenfeld. Time to forget the 'Credit Bubble', the Internet, DVDs, CDs, – most fans, music lovers, want to see their musical heroes in the flesh. And there is no substitute for the atmosphere, tension, and emotion, an inspired and engaging band can generate live in concert.
The success of Jeff's recent release – Jeff Beck: Performing This Week – Live At Ronnie Scott's - available on DVD, Blu-Ray and CD; the celebrated performance at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago, 2007; Jeff's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 4 April 2009; and new management – Harvey Goldsmith - have helped to invigorate Jeff's career, and standing in the music world.
Tonight, Jeff walks onto the stage dressed in black, with a white scarf draped around his neck, and cradling his cream and white stratocaster. The applause is deafening, heartfelt. I believe Jeff and the band are genuinely taken aback by the warm reception. The band starts the performance with "Becks Bolero" and it is clear the sound balance is excellent, and that each musician is crystal clear in the mix. Somehow, Jeff and his band make the music sound fresh, as if woven for the first time.
What makes a good performance? Perhaps, dialogue between the musician's on stage. While creating their own voice and space – each musician, tonight – seems to bend and shape the music to maximum effect, and the combined output goes straight to your emotions, your soul. Something, not all musicians achieve.
Vinnie and Tal begin the hypnotic rhythm to "Pump", and Tal's bass sound is beautifully warm, you could listen to it all night. A lot of people comment on her playing – which speaks for itself – but the diverse tones she gets from her bass, amps, and effects pedals are astounding. During the sixteen-number set it is evident the deep intuitive skills displayed by Vinnie, Tal, and Jason, provide a strong canvas for Jeff to paint a colourful array of sounds from his guitar.
Jeff plays with warmth, finesse, and an impish quality which permeates the group, and creates an extraordinary bond with the audience. The band truly seem astounded by the warm reception after each song, and exchange smiles. A great version of "You Never Know" follows, which sets the high standard of musicianship, and sound, that Jeff and his band reach during the rest of the performance.
Who could not be moved by the sublime "Cause We've Ended as Lovers" – beautiful sounds and melodies emanating from Jeff's guitar, and inspired soloing by Tal. It digs deep into the twilight room of the soul, creating a dizzy sense of magic. Does music get better than this? I doubt it. During the set Jeff moves around the stage, sometimes changing direction when the music changes course. Periodically, he exchanges a cheerful smile with a fellow band member, and continues to play his guitar with a naturalness few guitarist's attain. Each song is a highlight. If music is a dream, then this is one of the greatest of them all.
Jeff Beck has risen above his contemporaries and peers. Eric Clapton expired, suffocated by his own tediousness. Jimmy Page was there, but can't repeat it. The Led Zeppelin albums, however, remain a testament to his genius, and that of Robert Plant. Jeff was always there, without thinking about it. He is a consummate musician by profession – always has been – now he wears the Crown. Tonight, great music was played by great musicians fronted by a guitarist who can truly be called a genius.
After the concert Jeff, Tal, Jason, and Vinnie, are generous with their time, and in high spirits. I – along with many others – hope they return to the Ulster Hall, and, Belfast soon. The warm and passionate reception they received tonight, awaits them again.
1. Jeff's Set List
2. Jeff signing his Set List for Ronnie Kerrigan
3. Ronnie Kerrigan and Tal Wilkenfeld
4. Ronnie Kerrigan and Tal Wilkenfeld
5. Tal Wilkenfeld