Gig review: JEFF BECK – Birmingham Symphony Hall, 20 May 2014

Jeff Beck - Birmingham Symphony Hall, 20 May 2014

In my research recently for an interview with Steve Lukather I came across a 1986 video of him performing at a Japanese festival with Carlos Santana and Jeff Beck.  Luke is arguably the least recognisable now, the poodle perm long gone, but of the three Jeff Beck is the most unchanged.  His music, too, has endured even if there have been alarming chasms in his album output over the years, at least since the seventies.  Of those that flew the Yardbirds nest in the 1960s he has always been the most experimental and the most original.

50 years or so later, and now touching 70, he may not have lost his looks but seemingly he has lost his tongue.  This gig was sustained by the man’s legend not by his personality.  Half an hour in there was a cursory introduction to his band and two hours later a “Thank you for coming”.  And that was it.  Even Bonamassa says more.

I’ve read somewhere that Beck has more recently decided it is not a bad thing to replay his past but the lack of introduction and anecdotes belied his admirable history.

Jeff Beck - Birmingham Symphony Hall, 20 May 2014

It is a great shame that this audience interaction was lacking as it might have covered up a certain samey-ness in the setlist, and a lack of animation on stage.  No doubt, an audience predominately made up of reverential Beckophiles would have pored over the subtleties but to a non-worshipper they frankly merged into each other.  There was the fusion funk (‘Stratus’, ‘Nine’, ‘You Never Know’) the reflective (‘Where Were You’, ‘Danny Boy’) and the quirky (‘A Day In The Life’) – oodles of idiosyncratic whammy-bar harmonics but a little light on melody you could really get your teeth into.

Only when Beck played his final song – a wonderful ‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers’ – did we realise his true genius had maybe peaked with that landmark album ‘Blow By Blow’ in 1975, and under the watchful ear of George Martin.

Jeff Beck - Birmingham Symphony Hall, 20 May 2014

But there were other omissions, not least the lack of a keyboard foil.  This was very much a stripped-down band with Nicolas Meier filling in with synth guitar but also the ubiquitous backing tapes.  The fiery sparring that we have seen – historically – with Max Middleton and Jan Hammer and – more recently – with Jason Rebello was sadly lacking.  Without that focal point – both musically and visually – and the engaging presence (and playing) of a Tal Wilkenfeld this was not one of Beck’s more memorable bands.

Opening with a spirited and industrial-sounding grind -  ‘Loaded’ – a real highlight of his last studio outing ‘Emotion and Commotion’ – ‘Hammerhead’ – arrived clumsily and failed to ignite.

You couldn’t help thinking that – in the superb and slightly academic environs of Symphony Hall – when Rhonda Smith stepped up to take a somewhat pedestrian bass solo on ‘You Know You Know’ (a Mahavishnu Orchestra cover) the adoring  “older” audience was here for her graduation rather than a full on rock gig.  Her vocal on ‘Why Give It Away’, similarly failed to impress.

Jeff Beck - Birmingham Symphony Hall, 20 May 2014

Perhaps some more vocal pieces – with a vocalist – could have provided some light, shade and focus.  But there was no ‘People Get Ready’, ‘There’s No Other Me’ or even ‘Blanket’ (his previous duet with Imogen Heap) tonight.  Maybe all Jeff needed  was a LED wall at the back?

Jeff Beck - Birmingham Symphony Hall, 20 May 2014

Judging by their reaction, the fulsome Birmingham crowd were left duly satiated.  The gig started promptly and finished precisely at the allotted time. This must have left some leverage for a G & T or two before the journey home in the Bimmer.  Jeff was never going to play a second encore and this only further underlined the predictability and eventuality that seems to infest gigs these days.

But, nevertheless, his iconic status was re-affirmed as the shades came on for ‘Stratus’ (three songs in) and remained pretty much for the duration,  although providing a further barrier between the taciturn Guitar God and his adoring congregation.

Review by David Randall
Photos and Gallery by Steve Goudie

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

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Jeff Beck - Birmingham Symphony Hall, 20 May 2014
Photo: David Randall



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