|Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall|
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved
(Royal Albert Hall, 14th May 2014; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
Jeff Beck stands out as perhaps the exceptional technical guitarist in the rock idiom; on a good day, nobody gets close - even Jimmy Page opted to stay in his seat in 2009 when Beck played the Indigo O2!
Yet, in live performance live he can stand or fall by the quality of his material. When it offers him room to manoeuvre, he shines. When it tends to the formulaic you miss that imaginative edge which sets him apart. In the Royal Albert Hall, the material was a mixed bag, with a weighting towards thunderous, riffy rock with an orchestral undertone, and standards - a follow-on, in some ways, from the days of Beck, Bogert and Appice.
His brief forays in to pure, bluesey rock and roll gave him more of a chance to think on his feet and apply those remarkable improvised technical twists and turns which mark him out as such a special talent. A glimpse of Mingus's Goodbye Porkpie Hat, and a gutsy version of Rolling and Tumbling with Sophie Delila guesting on vocals, linked in to his jazz and blues roots. Cause We've Ended as Lovers from the 1975 album, Blow by Blow, retained its combination of warmth and jazz-tinged mystery, spiced with Beck's upper register pyrotechnics, and the unmistakable classic quality of Hendrix's Little Wing came through in Beck's respectful homage.
His quartet was impeccable. Canadian bassist Rhonda Smith does for rock what Esperanza Spaulding has done for jazz, an immaculate player, flipping between standard and upright electric instruments, applying slap bass and liquid distortions, bursting with a confidence to create a perfectly timed backdrop in tandem with Jonathan Joseph's stunningly accurate percussion. Joseph maintained a rolling, layered flow that took him all over the toms and cymbals with rigorously timed precision suffused with a lightness of touch. Nicolas Meier, on electric and acoustic guitars, was the perfect foil to Beck. Alert to every nuance, he complemented Beck's soaring, elastic style with a tightly controlled, richly chorded undertow, and Beck generously eased him in to the limelight in their shared interpretation of Meier’s bright, Spanish-tinged composition, Yemin.
The encores continued an Irish theme, which began earlier with a soulful Danny Boy, and had Bob Loveday joining the band on violin and penny whistle, along with James Pearson adding a flourish on keyboards, familiar as the effervescent leader of Ronnie's house band, and bowing out with a detour to Liverpool in an inspired take on the Beatles A Day in the Life and, finally the anthemic, moving, You'll Never Walk Alone.
Opening for Beck was a zestful solo set from Mike Sanchez on ‘a knackered digital keyboard’, as he put it! His command of the rock and roll, blues and mardi gras idioms was tremendous. His Jerry Lee Lewis piano style was every bit as wild as The Killer’s and his open, engaging personality won over many in the house.