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Jeff Beck: Performing This Week: Live at Ronnie Scott's
As my dear, departed Mother was fond of saying, "Life isn't fair." Eric Clapton is proclaimed a God, while Jeff Beck is proclaimed a tempermental devil, if people even know whom he is to begin with. Though Beck succeeded Clapton as guitarist for The Yardbirds, and went on to at least sporadic chart success with a variety of groups and sounds for the next decade plus, somehow his name has never entered the lexicon at large for great guitarists. Certainly musicians and insiders know who he is, and respect his inerrant musicality and melodic fortitude, but I for one have always felt it a shame that he hasn't received more global recognition and acclaim. While he rarely displays the blistering technical overkill of, say, a John McLaughlin, Beck straddles a number of genres with appealing mastery, coaxing a variety of sounds from his Stratocaster that are alternately soothing and scathing. This live performance at London jazz club Ronnie Scott's captures Beck and his band in fine form, performing some Beck hits and some more unusual choices as well. If the venue is somewhat unusual for someone of Beck's basic rock leanings (as Beck himself discusses in one of the extras), it's an intimate setting that provides each member of Beck's stellar band a chance to showcase their wares before an adoring audience. Plus there are a number of great guest star turns.
Starting off with the mad triplet rhythms of "Beck's Bolero," the band launches into a nonstop array of well executed idioms, including mellow pop-inflected tunes like "Cause We've Ended as Lovers" and the fun reggae of "Behind the Veil." Beck's buoyant young female bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, whom I first mentioned in my review of Eric Clapton's Crossroads DVD some time ago here at DVD Talk, once again proves she has chops galore in a nice Jaco-esque moment on "Lovers." Legendary drummer Vinnie Colaiuta may not have anything approaching Zappa's complexity to deal with in this group, but he gives the songs tasteful shadings on the quieter tunes, and always provides a solid thump on the more rock and blues heavy ones. Keyboardist Jason Rebello, one of the more appealing British jazz pianists of his generation (you may have seen or heard him in Sting's band), handles the multi-keyboard duties with ease and precision.
The first guest star is smoky voiced Joss Stone, who steps up with an appealingly gritty "People Get Ready." A couple of songs later, Beck does a neat little quote of Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" as a lead-in to "Brush With the Blues." Frou Frou songstress Imogen Heap is then up with a coolly understated "Blanket," proving why she's starting to create such an international sensation.
After a brief stop by the Beatles songbook with a great "A Day in the Life" (and it might be interesting for fans to compare Beck's more rock-inflected take on the tune with Wes Montgomery's proto-smooth jazz take from decades earlier), the "big" guest star is announced: Eric Clapton. Clapton and Beck obviously have a great deal of history with each other, as well as an equally obvious shared affection. Clapton is in great form on "Little Brown Bird" and "You Need Love," before Heap returns for one more song. Interestingly, but perhaps fittingly, Beck closes the set with the introspective, echoplexed meditation "Where Were You." It's a fitting testament to a guitarist who may not have the most overwhelming technique out there, but who unfailingly plays "smart," with an unerring melodic sense that has a deep emotional resonance.
The concert is extremely well-filmed, with onstage handheld cameras getting up close and personal with all of the players. Occasionally there are a few too many cutaways to the audience (though I had to wonder if maybe we were seeing celebrities out there--one brief snippet seemed to be Joe Cocker nodding in time to Beck's quicksilver playing, though I could be completely wrong). The audience on the whole is obviously deeply appreciating this chance to not only hear Beck and his stellar troupe perform, but to be as close as they are--the people in front are virtually within arm's reach of the band.
Jeff Beck finally was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame a while ago, much too late for his most ardent fans. Maybe the mellowing tendencies of age will make Beck more accessible and/or palatable for the public at large. He really deserves to be in the pantheon of great rock guitarists, but Beck manages to stretch the boundaries of various genres quite easily, blending together disparate elements to make a very appealingly cohesive and innovative whole. This BD is an exemplary chance to experience his very particular genius up close and personal. Longtime fans are going to love this concert, but if you're even passingly interested in the history of British rock over the past half century or so, you owe it to yourself to check out a master in peak form.
Beck has a very crisp enhanced 1.78:1 transfer that has sharp detail with excellent color, contrast and black levels. The stage lighting is not overwhelmingly bright, but everything is quite easy to see, and the closeups of Beck sliding on the fretboard or Rebello's fingers dancing over the keys are amazing and crystal clear. This SD-DVD is not quite up to the sharpness levels of the BD (as is to be expected), but it's quite good overall.
The SD-DVD provides solid, if not overwhelming, sound options, including DTS Surround and DD 5.1. Surround channels are smartly utilized for the backup band (and occasional audience cheer), while Beck's guitar floats mostly in the front channels. The DD 5.1 sounded just a tiny bit compressed on the high end (something I tend to be especially sensitive to on Dolby mixes, so you may hear nothing).
The SD-DVD offers only two of the BD's manifold extras, a 30 minute in-depth interview with Beck, which concentrates more on this particular concert and its song choices than on his storied history and a shorter piece interviewing the band members.
If Clapton is God, I'm not sure what that makes Beck--Krishna, maybe? (He does, after all, exploit some Eastern scales in some of his work). Whatever deity you choose to equate him with, this great concert proves he still has his mojo, and he's backed by a great band playing for all they're worth. Highly recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet