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Jeff Beck - Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Music Review: Jeff Beck – ‘Live at the Hollywood Bowl’ (Blu-ray/2CD 50th Anniversary Concert)

Besides being the world’s greatest living guitarist, Jeff Beck is a man of few words (in concert). On August 10, 2016 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, he celebrated 50 years of being a professional artist in the public spotlight (which began with The Yardbirds in 1965). And about a handful of songs into it, he went up to the mic to say that over 50 years earlier, he was at the same venue (in ’65) “as a tourist” but that nobody was there. The guitar wizard humbly said he couldn’t have imagined that he would be back there all these years later (as a performer) and graciously thanked the crowd for their presence for this historic show.

In truth (no pun intended), it is the fans who are thankful that Beck is still flying high on his Olympic White Fender Stratocaster. And now you can see the career-spanning performance for yourself on Blu-ray, CD, and other formats, simply titled Live at the Hollywood Bowl. Over the course of 21 songs in 100 minutes, he played many hits from his years in The Yardbirds, the Jeff Beck Group, and his legendary solo releases. You get to relive all the stylistic shifts, from ’60s pop rock, hard rock, blues, jazz rock (with a little funk thrown in here and there), electronic/synth-aided rock, and more.

The Jeff Beck Band

Rhonda Smith, known for being Prince’s bass player for a decade, handles this role flawlessly. (She also counts Beyonce, Chaka Khan, and T.I. among her other credits.) Carmen Vandenberg is the rhythm guitarist (and member of U.K. band Bones, as is guest singer Rosie Bones), and Jonathan Joseph is on drums. Vandenberg and Rosie Bones also played on Beck’s Loud Hailer LP from last year.

The 50th Anniversary Concert (Blu-ray)

The crowd was respectable for the bluesy opening number, “The Revolution Will Be Televised,” featuring the megaphone-sung vocals of Rosie Bones – you can see screenshots of people eating/drinking. It’s a decent start but would not have been my first choice for an opener.

Next comes a trio of classics from his short but vital career in The Yardbirds (where he replaced some guy named Eric Clapton): “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Heart Full of Soul,” and “For Your Love.” Guest singer Jimmy Hall’s booming voice does these short pop rock ditties justice, with Todd O’Keefe also providing backing vocals. Beck has always said he is not a “long solo” guy, believe it or not. It’s on songs like these where you understand that he can say as much with short, aching note bends and small fiery solos as most guitarists do on five-minute jams.

Beck’s 1968 debut solo album Truth gets a lot of live at this show, highlighted by “Let Me Love You” (a Willie Dixon composition that features the man who first released it, the always energetic blues icon Buddy Guy), “Morning Dew,” and one of the earliest heavy metal/hard rock songs ever recorded, “Beck’s Bolero” (which is actually credited to Jimmy Page). The most joyous of these is “Let Me Love You” for one simple reason: Buddy Guy. Guy is one of Beck’s guitar heroes, and one of the last remaining blues greats still around. No one brings more passion and feel to every note sung or played than him. His performance here with Beck backs this up. Enjoy it folks.

Jeff Beck - Live at the Hollywood BowlBeck continues his cruise through the blues with powerhouse vocalist Beth Hart on “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Hart, who has recorded with blues titan Joe Bonamassa in recent years, brings her A-game on this intimate aching blues ballad.

In the 1970s, the fusion of jazz and rock reached its zenith, and Beck was in the middle of that new and exciting mix of genres, having worked with Jan Hammer, keyboard wiz for Mahavishnu Orchestra. Hammer may have lost a lot of hair since then but at this show, his fleeting finger work is still top-notch. In fact, he shows as much virtuosity on the keys during “Freeway Jam” as Beck does on guitar.

The Billy Cobham-ish and Hammer-penned “You Never Know,” from 1980 album There & Back, is one of the more underrated Beck classics from his fusion days. On this live edition, though shorter than the studio original, it still has some seriously furious riffage alongside some funky bass (by Smith).

Intimate blue lighting sets the scene for showstopper “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers.” Beck’s lyrical licks on this have always made it one of his most iconic songs – technically a cover song since it was given to him by Stevie Wonder in the mid-’70s. All these years later, Beck still bears his soul into this instrumental masterpiece and still manages to sneak in some wild finishes to his solos for good measure.

The synth-aided “Star Cycle” (from There & Back) also gets the live treatment here, with Beck and Hammer showing off their firepower with dueling solos. “Blue Wind,” from Wired (1976), is crunchier in concert (and a bit more metal by Beck standards, via his palm-muted riffing). Then comes “Big Block,” from the 1989 Grammy-winning release, Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop.

One of the true treats on this release is Beck’s cover of ZZ Top’s “Rough Boy.” From 1985 album Afterburner, it’s a midtempo ballad by ZZ Top standards, and Billy F. Gibbons comes out to sing and play it in front of a rapturous audience. Much like with Beck and Guy, the director of this release, Jim Yukich, does an appreciable job of showing just how well Beck and Gibbons play off and to each other.

Steven Tyler sprints out to the stage for the performance of “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” and he immediately gets the audience to sing the chorus on command. This is followed by Yardbirds classic “Shapes of Things,” which gets a little more hard rocked up (read: more Zeppelin-esque). For my money, Tyler has always had the strongest falsetto in the bizness (well, next to Rob Halford), and despite the wear and tear on his vocal cords over the decades, he’s still got it. All Beck could do was smile when he did one of his trademarked yelps between verses.

The greats often end a thrilling, exhaustive show with one long, epic song to send fans off into the night. For this 50th anniversary show, you get two: “A Day in the Life,” and “Purple Rain.” The former is what Beck usually saves as his last big highlight of his concerts (in recent years). And as awe-inspiring as this Beatles cover always is, it’s Beck’s all-star band tribute to Prince that will and should be the talk of this release. Hart comes back out one last time to belt out her soulful vocals, while Hall, Rosie Bones, and Tyler group together to sing backup, and Hammer comes back to the keys.

And then you see Prince’s former bass player Rhonda Smith taking it all in and being a total pro during what was surely an emotional performance given the death of Prince just months earlier. For Beck’s part, he stays cool while the singers do their part, then lets loose with tasteful soloing that stays mostly true to the Purple One’s vision. Who knows how Beck plans on topping this moment at the end of future shows but for now, this ranks as the finale of all finales.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Little quibbles include no special features/behind-the-scenes extras. And in the liner notes, Todd O’Keefe appears in the “thank you” section but doesn’t get mentioned as a backup singer, even though Hall does introduce him to the audience after the Yardbirds classics they sang.

With 21 songs performed, there’s not much of a reason to nitpick on track selection. But for a 50-year celebration, it seems a bit odd to leave a whole decade or so out (no originals from the 1990s or the 2000s, though he didn’t record all that much then). Instead of three songs from his 2016 album Loud Hailer, it would’ve been more of a complete retrospective to do just one (preferably the powerful, political-minded “Scared for the Children”) and instead perform songs like the more electronic-powered “What Mama Said” from 1999 LP Who Else! and the Grammy-winning “Plan B” from 2003 LP, Jeff. But that’s just quibbling.

Audio (2CD) Set

The 2CD set is (thankfully) the exact same 21-song concert shown on the Blu-ray, and the sound is pristine. You get 12 tunes on the first disc, and nine on the second. As you might expect, CD 1 has the bulk of his best-known heavy hitters. But in terms of guests, it acts as a warmup for CD 2, with the majority of the special guests (Tyler, Gibbons, Guy, and Hart, etc.) on the latter. With either disc, you’ll get your money’s worth via the numerous aforementioned highlights on both.

Bottom Line

Jeff Beck’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl is an essential collector’s item for longtime fans. Period. Not only is it rare to get all these songs performed in one night, it’s also a rare group of performers he assembled to shine with him on one stage. And the guests do so without overshadowing the man of the hour. The release not only comes as a comprehensive Blu-ray/2CD set but a DVD/2CD package, a stand-alone Blu-ray, and digital/MP3 version, as well as a DVD/3LP set, which is available to purchase via PledgeMusic and Amazon.com.

Tracklist (CD 1: 1-12; CD 2: 13-21)

1) “The Revolution Will Be Televised”
2) “Over Under Sideways Down”
3) “Heart Full of Soul”
4) “For Your Love”
5) “Beck’s Bolero”
6) “Rice Pudding”/”Morning Dew”
7) “Freeway Jam”
8) “You Never Know”
9) “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”
10) “Star Cycle”
11) “Blue Wind”
12) “Big Block”
13) “I’d Rather Go Blind”
14) “Let Me Love You”
15) “Live in the Dark”
16) “Scared for the Children”
17) “Rough Boy”
18) “Train Kept A-Rollin”
19) “Shapes of Things”
20) “A Day in the Life”
21) “Purple Rain”

About Charlie Doherty

Senior Music Editor and Culture & Society (Sports) Editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Prior writing/freelancing ventures: copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. Keep up with me on twitter.com/chucko33

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