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"The Boat" would have really liked Jeff Beck's new live DVD. You will too.

Music DVD Review: Jeff Beck – ‘Live In Tokyo’

Jeff-Beck TokyoDVDBack when I was still in high school, there was this guy I worked with on the school paper named Jerry, who for reasons I won’t go entirely into here, was nicknamed “The Boat.”

Jerry and I were never particularly close in school (though I always really liked the guy). But as these things so often tend to happen, we ended up traveling within the same social circle and eventually became better friends, particularly for the first few years after we graduated high school.

As I said, we weren’t necessarily that close. But there was still a bond there, because we shared similar taste in music. For example, I confess that it was none other than Jerry who ended up dragging this then very skeptical, but soon to be life-long fanatic, out to his very first Bruce Springsteen concert way back in 1975. That was some 35 (and still counting) Bruce shows ago.

So, for that alone, I owe him a debt of…well, something.

Besides Springsteen, another artist “The Boat” really liked was Jeff Beck. Which may have at least partially accounted for that unfortunate nickname my group of friends saddled him with. You see, right around the time Jeff Beck released his landmark 1975 album Blow By Blow, Jerry used to wear this T-Shirt that replicated the album cover. Since Jerry was packing a few extra pounds around his mid-section, the way he rocked that shirt made it look like Beck was leaning way back into “Freeway Jam” (or whatever classic Blow By Blow track that you chose to imagine).

“The Boat” (God rest his soul) would have really liked Jeff Beck’s new DVD, Live In Tokyo, from Eagle Rock.

Beck’s long, legendary career has taken him down a number of musical paths – both with and without the use of several lead vocalists (including Rod Stewart), and band members ranging from Ron Wood to Jan Hammer. But in recent years, he has returned to the same, mostly instrumental jazz-rock fusion format that powered his mid-seventies peak with Blow By Blow, and he does the same here on Live In Tokyo.

There are a number of setlist similarities with this show – recorded earlier this year – and the songs heard on 2008’s fabulous Live At Ronnie Scott’s DVD. But don’t let that scare you off. The differences – not the least of which being the fact that he is performing with a completely different band – are significant enough to make this release every bit as essential. The performance is also magnificent.

It probably goes without saying, but Beck’s playing here is as flawless as ever. What really makes Live In Tokyo a treat for fans though, is watching his interaction with the great new band he has assembled.

Beck seems to have a particular knack for picking out amazing female bass players (look no further than Tal Wilkenfeld’s work on the Ronnie Scott’s DVD for evidence of that). But ex-Prince bassist Rhonda Smith seems to be a particularly rare find, even for Beck. Together with drummer Jonathan Joseph, she adds a filthy sounding funk foundation to covers of Billy Cobham’s “Stratus” and John McLaughlin’s “You Know, You Know,” even while providing melodic flourishes on stand-up bass to the mid-eastern flavored “Yemin.” Smith also has a nice vocal turn on the Muddy Waters blues standard “Rollin’ And Tumblin’.”

Second guitarist Nicolas Meier likewise shines here, whether adding a beautiful acoustic compliment to Beck’s shredding on “Yemin” and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” or getting into an electrifying shoot-out with the master himself on “You Never Know.”

But even playing with one of the best bands he has fronted in years, there is still no mistaking that the star attraction here remains Jeff Beck himself. Some of the cooler, closeup camera shots here really highlight Beck’s spellbinding technique, particularly how heavily he uses the thumb to pluck those strings. With Beck’s long history of growing restless for any given period of time with the musicians he is working with – no matter how gifted they are – one just hopes he sticks with this group for a bit longer. Live In Tokyo really leaves you with the impression there is still plenty of music left to be made with these guys.

Yep. “The Boat” would have really liked this new Jeff Beck DVD, Live In Tokyo. You will too.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.

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