INDIANAPOLIS -- On Monday, June 21, just a few days shy of his 66th birthday, guitar legend Jeff Beck played a sold-out show at the Egyptian Room of the Murat Theater.
If the rare Indianapolis performance is any indication of how his world tour is going, it's safe to say that Jeff Beck is having the time of his life. And why not? He's on a roll.
In January, Beck won a Grammy Award for his instrumental version of the Beatle's classic "A Day in the Life." Since that time, he's toured with fellow Yardbirds alumnus Eric Clapton; released his first studio recording in seven years, Emotion & Commotion (Atco); and performed a tribute to Les Paul at New York City's intimate Iridium Room, on what would have been the guitar innovator's 95th birthday.
Beck opened Monday night's 90-minute set with a cover of the Billy Cobham's "Stratus." Propelled by Narada Michael Walden's explosive percussion, this number put the enthusiastic crowd on notice: "Fasten your seat belts; you're in for a wild ride."
"Over the course of the evening, Beck and his band, featuring Jason Rebello on keyboards and Rhonda Smith on bass, moved seamlessly between the more subdued work on Emotion & Commotion and the sonic pyrotechnics that Beck is best-known for."
Over the course of the evening, Beck and his band, featuring Jason Rebello on keyboards and Rhonda Smith on bass, moved seamlessly between the more subdued work on Emotion & Commotion and the sonic pyrotechnics that Beck is best-known for.
Looking fit, trim and toned, Beck played his signature Fender Stratocaster with apparent ease, sometimes coaxing, other times tapping, slapping or otherwise rough housing with the instrument to generate just the right sound.
Early on, Beck and company dipped into the new release for two numbers: a haunting rendition of Benjamin Britten's "Corpus Christi Carol," followed by "Hammerhead," a showcase of sorts for Beck's speed, agility and technical virtuosity.
Not much of a chatterbox, Beck prefers to let his guitar do the talking -- and the singing as well. His vibrato evoked Judy Garland's plaintive style on "Over the Rainbow" and his melancholic rendition of the Irish folk tune "Mna na h-Eireann" ("Women of Ireland") was sheer heartbreak.
On those rare occasions when Jeff Beck addressed the crowd, his comments were sparse, but sincere and, as always, a touch self-effacing. Introducing it as "the best thing that came out of Woodstock," Beck and company launched into an amped up version of Sly Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher." And during the encore, he told the crowd that he'd learned Les Paul's "How High the Moon" when he was 16, "but could never play it like the master."
Throughout the evening, Beck dipped into some of his back catalogue and pulled out a few gems including "Cause We've Ended as Lovers" -- a song he dedicated to Roy Buchanan on the landmark Blow by Blow album -- and "Brush with the Blues" a tour de force number that's been a staple of Mr. Beck's live performances for years.
Beck also threw in a few cuts from his 2001 release You Had it Coming: the Grammy winning instrumental "Dirty Mind" and a raucous cover of Muddy Water's "Rollin' and Tumblin'" featuring Ms. Smith on vocal.
The show stopping encore, "Nessun Dorma" -- another orchestral piece from Emotion & Commotion -- brought an appreciative crowd to its feet.
For the faithful, Monday night's performance illustrated that Jeff Beck is at the top of his game. And for the uninitiated, the show confirmed Beck's status as one of the most dynamic and accomplished guitar players around.
As for Mr. Beck himself, it's clear he can't have too much fun doing what he does best.
Kevin Howley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.