Saw Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall in London last night, an idyllic way to spend a glorious summer evening before the predicted storms over the next few days. We even caught an old-fashioned Number 9 Routemaster bus complete with a proper conductor for the last leg of the journey, something that turns us passengers into ten-year olds, drawing smiles and getting us talking to each other. No mean feat for hard-bitten Londoners.
The Hall is huge and we had good seats in the banked stalls facing the stage but these were up the far end so the performers were tiny. Luckily, I had the foresight to bring my posh opera glasses, a fan for the muggy atmosphere, and a bottle of water so, except for sitting behind the biggest man in the world with a head and neck built like a bullock, I was happy.
After a great support act by progabilly singer Imelda May (Hmm, a name from two of my shows — I, Imelda and Anna May Wong Must Die!), Jeff appeared. Lithe, lean and tanned in his all-white with a little red bandana (were those pixie boots?) he looked dead cute and more like Nigel Tufnel every day, even though he turned 65 last week. This being the sedate Kensington Gore and the audience being mostly over fifty, the volume does not go up to eleven but is loud enough to give maximum pleasure, Jeff being the ribbed condom of the rock world, without shredding your eardrums.
Lovely Companion Charles Shaar Murray said, "Most instrumental rock guitarists can bore me to tears. Jeff Beck can move me to tears."
Apart from his awesome playing where the meister of the bent string and tremolo arm makes his white Stratocaster sing and wail, I love Jeff for the way he treats women musicians. Although I missed the presence of Beck regular — the marvelous (and statuesque) Imogen Heap — and wished she was there singing Rollin' and Tumblin', Imelda May (shorter by a foot) filled the Heap-shaped gap with a powerful voice and percussive backing band featuring jazz trumpet and Celtic drumming. (Am I the only person who loves drum solos?)
Jeff's been using the same bass player for years, the amazing prodigy Tal Wilkenfeld (now only 21 years old), including her in his legendary Ronnie Scotts series of gigs which you can get on DVD or get a glimpse of here. A light sensitive touch and digital dexterity does the trick. She holds her own providing a solid foundation for Jeff to do his thang and countering with imaginative bass fills. The highlight of their partnering last night was a duet on bass where Tal played the complex melodic stuff up the high end and Jeff at her shoulder plucked at the low strings.
Vinnie Colaiuta is simply brilliant on drums — did I mention I love drum solos? Part of the pleasure is counting his complex timing which never ever falls apart but always looks so damned easy.
I couldn't hear Jason Rebello's keyboards that clearly but then again you don't want synths cluttering up the scenery and competing with the man we came to hear.
For the encore, Jeff was joined by surprise guest performer David Gilmour (the tiny speck in black in the pic below) for a rousing rendition of Jerusalem, a real crowd-pleaser. Someone with a good seat has already posted the video (above).
For the second encore, they went from the sublime to the ridiculous with Hi Ho Silver Lining, a song Jeff once said was like having a fackin' pink toilet seat slung around your neck for life. David Gilmour sang so look out for the video on YouTube and one here. This effectively bookended the night with his first and biggest hit as he'd opened with Bolero, the B side to his greatest pop choon (1967).
Bad sound in the choir seats behind the PA led to our friends walking out before the encore and I'd urge promoters not to sell these seats without a warning and at knockdown prices. But otherwise a great show and a sold out venue. Promoter Harvey Goldsmith must be very happy with his new managerial conquest.
Pic: David Gilmour joins Jeff Beck onstage for the encore
UPDATE: Because so many visitors from outside the UK are reading this review, I'll quickly add what I can remember about the actual set-list. Mostly it it was the same as the Ronnie Scott's gig. A Day In The Life was gorgeous. Nitin Sawnhey's Nadia, and Stevie Wonder's Cause We've Ended As Lovers with a bass solo from Tal, were beautiful. Also enjoyed the stomping Big Block, and Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/Brush With The Blues. Peter Gunn was a new one — who doesn't love that heavy spy guitar riff? Aside from joining in the encore, Imelda May changed out of her rockabilly tight top and mini skirt and into a glamorous green velvet and net evening gown to sing the Eartha Kitt classic, "Lilac Wine", slow and sultry with Jeff's band. And the very last encore was Jeff and Jason on the haunting Where Were You?