Last night Los Angeles was supposed to be in attendance for “Jeff Beck and Friends, a Celebration of 50 years” at The Hollywood Bowl. Instead what was presented was essentially nine different mini-concerts, each one an amazing retrospective of a storied career of not only the headliner, but some pretty substantial acts on their own. I’m talking Jan Hammer, Billy Gibbons, Buddy Guy, Steven Tyler, The Yardbirds, Beth Hart, and one massive history lesson all rolled into one. There were individual sets that were almost by separate groups.
Prior to the show, I had looked up the set list online, and it was supposed to be a show in support of Beck’s latest album Loud Hailer, and that would have been just great. An artist that’s been around for fifty years, out in support of his latest album? I’m in! There has to be a massive amount of respect for an artist with that breadth of material behind him to still be creating and presenting new music (Rolling Stones, are you listening)? Upon arrival at the venue after negotiating our city’s famous gridlock, I was presented with a set list for review. My first reaction was something to the effect of “Wow! This is not what I was expecting, this is really special”. I was reminded by the staff at The Bowl that every night at The Bowl is something special. True that.
Akin to a scene out of a documentary, the lights in the venue dimmed, and guests were treated to a retrospective of images of Jeff Beck throughout his journey, a journey that even he seems amazed by, at one point stating “I came here fifty years ago, and I can’t believe I’m still here, playing for you. Thank you very much”. I don’t believe The Yardbirds played The Bowl in 1966, but they did play the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium that year. After the opening intro, Jeff strolled out onto the stage with little fanfare, waved to the audience, and got right down to it. For Jeff Beck, “getting right down to it” sometimes largely consists of spinning out his jazz-fusion inspired riffs, without as much as a word to the assembled faithful. Last night however, he got right down to something that was not seen on any other date on this tour.
The opening number, The Revolution Will Be Televised was stark, unique, and almost jarring. Beck has teamed with vocalist Rosie Bones who sings this number through a megaphone, referred to as a “loud hailer” in the U.K., which is the title of his latest album, one filled with social statements and commentary. Rosie waded right into the middle of the premium garden boxes, stood right on the table of one very surprised concert-goer, and commanded attention with her loud hailer. This was something new, something very new. Her rugged vocals were punctuated by Beck’s percussive strumming, as though he were using the guitar as a drum. In some ways it was reminiscent of The Wall, but much more refreshing. After the opening number, it was time for The Yardbirds to take the stage.
It wasn’t a reformed Yardbirds obviously, they’re out in the hinterlands with what’s left of the original band playing club dates, and I wish them well. This was a three-song set consisting of Over Under Sideways Down, Heart Full of Soul, and For Your Love. I’m pretty sure the crowd was stunned because Yardbirds raving up at The Bowl is the last thing anyone expected to hear.
After The Yardbirds set, it was time for The Jeff Beck Group to take the stage. Starting off with a song who’s songwriting credits are still under debate to this day, Jeff launched into Beck’s Bolero. To this day, Jeff and his old pal Jimmy Page each still claim that they wrote the song, and not collaboratively. They played it together last at the Rock Hall induction ceremonies in Cleveland in 2009, where Jimmy absolutely killed it with his 1966 Fender Electric XII 12-String. The main progression in Bolero is also strikingly similar to the medley portion of Led Zeppelin’s How Many More Times. But all of that is another story. It’s almost too hard to put into words the electrical feelings that seemed to emanate from the stage when Bolero was played. Bolero was followed by Rice Pudding (the set list handout actually states “Jeff speaks”) for this song, Morning Dew, and Change is Gonna Come.
After this set, Jeff brought out his old friend and band mate, Jan Hammer, and it was the 1970’s all over again! It was time for a little Freeway Jam, followed by a song that’s so ethereal it almost defies having a title, Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers. I can still hear the final, growling, subdued chords echoing off the hills. The vibrancy and precision of these two songs was just incredible. Normally I don’t take that much notice of the seats I’m in at The Bowl, but last night sitting dead center at the front of the garden boxes almost seemed to give the music a geometric quality to it, something that can only be described as what you’d expect out of Jeff Beck if you were listening to a half-speed master through some choice headphones. It was pure precision, not a note was wasted or missed.
The next set really was 1975 in all it’s glory, resplendent with the requisite keyboard noodling of Jan Hammer on You Never Know, Star Cycle, Blue Wind, and Big Block. Unless you’re familiar with these songs, it may have been an opportune time to hit the refreshment stands or the restrooms. Some can only take so much noodling, even though it was noodling at its best. I didn’t miss a note.
At this point in the show, it was time for the “friends” portion of the evening. It started out with Beth Hart and a rousing version of I’d Rather Go Blind, the Etta James standard. Hart did a great job on the vocals while Beck mirrored her lockstep on the high notes. And then all at once, it was back to early Jeff Beck, it was time for Buddy Guy and Beck to duet on Let Me Love You (Baby). I found myself wishing that he had brought out J Rod for this one, but you can’t miss with Buddy. Beck has stated throughout his career that Guy was one of his major influences, and you could see it in his face, that he was still in awe of the 80-year old blues legend. It was somewhat of a mutual admiration society on the stage.
Rosie Bones came back out to clear the palette with Live In The Dark and Scared For The Children. The set list had Jersey Wives on it and was supposed to be next, which I found ironic because Richie Sambora and Orianthi were sitting behind me. During Scared For The Children, you literally could have heard a pin drop.
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top fame was also in the house and joined Beck on stage where they performed Rough Boy and 16 Tons, a song perfectly suited to Gibbon’s vocals. Between songs, Gibbons pointed over to Beck and exclaimed “50 years of this man’s guitar! We aren’t ever going to have another guitarist like this”. I didn’t even want to look behind me….
And lastly, it was time to come full circle, both from a musical and a historical standpoint. Steven Tyler took the stage, and I am guessing that this had to have been his dream come true, and we’re talking about someone who’s played with almost everybody. When Tyler was a kid, he was obsessed with The Yardbirds, so much so that when they came to play a gig in his town, he infiltrated the roadie contingent for the band, ended up carrying in Jimmy Page’s guitar case, and so for a short moment was a roadie for The Yardbirds. Of course, later on Jimmy ended up stealing Tyler’s girlfriend, so perhaps that didn’t work out so well. The history didn’t end there as the pair played Train Kept A Rolling, notable in its history because it was the first song the Led Zeppelin ever played together. They finished their set with Shapes Of Things, another Yardbirds standard.
The encore consisted of A Day In The Life, and Purple Rain, and Beck managed to play both the guitar and the vocal parts simultaneously during Day and as always, you don’t even realize you’re listening to instrumentals, because his guitar is his voice. For Purple Rain, Hart and Tyler were brought back out for a stunning three-part harmony.
All in all, a monumental show, the likes of which we may not see again (or maybe we will in October in the desert), but still a hard show to beat.