MAY 21, 2015 BY: TODD BEEBE
The Chicago Theatre welcomed guitar icon Jeff Beck back to it’s stage on May 21, 2015. Beck’s career spans 6 decades, going back to 1965 with the Yardbirds.
This night showed Beck covering all of those eras. Jeff’s current touring band consists of Rhonda Smith on bass, Jonathan Joseph on drums, Nicolas Meier on second guitar and Jimmy Hall on vocals.
Rhonda and Jonathan pulled out a text book example of what a rhythm section should be this night. Amazing playing all around!
The night opened with “Loaded” which featured Beck and Meier laying down a wall of guitars right out of the gate! Following with “Nine” they set the mood for the evening: Jeff Beck was here to pull out all the stops!
“You Know You Know” was originally done by John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Beck and his band did an excellent interpretation of the tune, with Beck paying tribute to McLaughlin, as he has stated his admiration for the guitarist many times during his career. Jeff used this tune to show the crowd what his more than capable band can do! Bassist Rhonda Smith stepped up to plate and pulled out a solo that showcased her monster chops. Rhonda’s playing is perfect for Beck’s music, as she knows when to play hard, but also when to lay back. She is, without a doubt, one of the best players on the scene today. While I’m at it, let me say that Jonathan Joseph plays in that league. Good drummers can be hard to find, knowing when to let loose and when to hold back seems to be a forgotten art in 2015. Not in the case of this band however! Rhonda and Jonathan pulled out a text book example of what a rhythm section should be this night. Amazing playing all around!
Most players that came up during his era have now coasted into their “retirement” years, resting on their laurels and playing it safe by performing the same time tested classics they’ve become known for.
Not Jeff Beck.
“Hammerhead” from 2010’s Emotion & Commotion brought the show back into a more rock direction. Emotion and Commotion reminded me that one thing I always loved about Beck; he is constantly reinventing himself and pushing the envelope. Most players that came up during his era have now coasted into their “retirement” years, resting on their laurels. They play it safe by performing the same time tested classics they’ve become known for. Not Jeff Beck. “Hammerhead” is part of Beck’s “techno” recordings that started with 1999’s Who Else. Some of his best work is on these albums, and witnessing his live playing on this tune, he’s at the top of his game in 2015.
“Morning Dew” was originally covered on Beck’s 1968 LP Truth. Most people know Rod Stewart as a 70’s pop star, but Stewart actually sang on Truth and was featured on that albums version of “Morning Dew.” On this night however, Beck brought out the great Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie fame. Hall has always been a master vocalist and he blended perfectly with what Beck had in mind for Chicago that evening. Hall immediately grabbed the crowds attention with his commanding stage presence, he worked the crowd perfectly as he belted out some great vocals.
I can’t name one player from the class of ’65 that could fit so easily into a tune like “Yemin.” But Beck did it with style and grace.
In typical Beck fashion, the crowd was instantly pulled from 1968 into 2015 with the new “Why Give It Away?” Jimmy Hall also sang this one and it is one of the highlights of Beck’s newly released Live + album. Another stand out track on the new album and this particular show is the Sam Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Once again Hall’s Vocals were in top form and a perfect complement to Beck’s amazing chordal work and soloing throughout the tune.
“Yemin” is a new tune written by second guitarist Nicolas Meier. It leans heavily on middle eastern influence and Meier played a brilliant acoustic solo during the song that proved yet again that Jeff Beck never surrounds himself with mediocre players. Meier has monster chops and wasn’t afraid to show them over his great composition. On that note, neither was the master, as Beck once again reminded us that he is always moving forward. I can’t name one player from the class of ’65 that could fit so easily into a tune like “Yemin.” But Beck did it with style and grace. Always pushing the envelope of creativity.
Watching Jeff manipulate volume and tone controls all while working the whammy bar on his Stratocaster is simply spellbinding.
Moving up to “Nadia” from Beck’s You Had It Coming gave us the highlight of the evening. Watching Jeff manipulate volume and tone controls all while working the whammy bar on his Stratocaster is simply spellbinding. His unique approach of constantly grasping the bar while playing with only fingers puts him in a league of his own. When Beck started out, and for many decades, he played with a pick, but the way he keeps reinventing himself to only come back better each time it’s the mark of a legend.
Other highlights of the evening were Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing” and Jimmy Hall tearing the house down once again with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Jimmy Hall was amazing for the entire night!
I’ve been fortunate enough to see Jeff Beck numerous times over the years and this night was one of his best!…what he brought to Chicago on May 21st was simply the stuff of legends.
The man deserves major credit as he definitely knows the fine art of working a crowd and a stage. For several years now Beck has done an amazing instrumental take on The Beatles “A Day In The life.” He played it this night, and it sounded fresh and amazing yet again. He encored with a great version of “Danny Boy” and closed the night with a fitting tribute to a lost legend, playing B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.”
I’ve been fortunate enough to see Jeff Beck numerous times over the years and this night was one of his best! He turned 71 on June 24, 2015, and what he brought to Chicago on May 21st was simply the stuff of legends. That’s because Jeff Beck is a legend. His influence crosses many genres including Rock, blues and jazz/fusion. At 71 he is playing at his best. I was lucky enough to be in the theatre for the sound check this night, and it was interesting to hear how Beck and his band played many of the tunes totally different from how they were played that night for the show. I can’t emphasize enough how great it is that he constantly pushes the envelope and reinvents the guitar constantly, never resting on his laurels. Pick up the new album Live + as it features many of the tunes he played on this stop in Chicago, with the same line up of Hall, Joseph, Meier and Smith. Thanks for bringing a great night of music to Chicago Jeff!