Performing This Week... Live At Ronnie Scott's

Jeff Beck

Eagle Records, 2008

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It’s easy to love a Monet, an Ansel Adams, the Red Album Beatles.  They are masterful yet accessible; the beauty of their work does not require a great deal of effort for their audience to discern.  It’s a little more of a challenge to connect with an artist like a Picasso or an Andy Warhol or, since 1972, a Jeff Beck.

Since parting ways with first Rod Stewart and then with the entire idea of a vocal pop band, Beck has done two things.  One is to repeatedly confirm his status as one of the most exceptionally talented guitarists of his era.  The other is to make whatever kind of music he felt like that week/month/year/decade (twice in his career he has made only one album in a ten-year stretch) -- critics, record labels and his audience be damned.

The results have varied from exhilirating (the blistering jazz-fusion of Blow By Blow and Wired) to invigorating (the heavy album rock of Guitar Shop) to exasperating (the electronica-flooded You Had It Coming).  And most of those same adjectives apply to his latest outing, Performing This Week… Live At Ronnie Scott’s, plus one more -- astonishing.

The thing it’s important to understand about Beck is that there is simply no one else on earth who plays like him.  Sure, there have been plenty of guitarists who have mastered speed-riffing, sustain, effects pedals, bent notes, tapping, etc., etc.  But no one does what Beck does, which is, more often than not, to throw the entire bag of tricks into a single song, pour a lifetime’s worth of passion into his playing, and make it all work together.  On a track off of 2001’s Jeff, guest Saffron raps "If the voice don't say it, the guitar will play it."  Exactly.  Except, most vocalists only wish they had the range of tone and emotion and expressiveness Beck manages using only six strings, ten fingers, and a few knobs and pedals.  This album’s liner notes put it another way: “So does Beck play rock, blues, jazz, techno, funk, world music or rockabilly?  The answer is yes.  And often all of them at once.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opener “Beck’s Bolero” has all the bombast and technical wizardry of the Truth original, with 30 years’ worth of accumulated wisdom augmenting it.  Future generations will listen to this recording for hours trying to figure how he got all those tones and flavors out of one guitar, live, on the fly.  I don’t have a clue, myself.

Next he offers a nod to a major influence with a quick run at John McLaughlin’s “Eternity’s Breath” before stepping into the sixth dimension, wrenching otherworldly squonks and bleats out of his ax between runs at the assertive central riff of Billy Cobham’s “Stratus.”  Soon after, “Behind The Veil” feels like an inside-out instrumental run at Eric Clapton’s version of “I Shot The Sheriff,” with its bluesy soloing over a reggae-tinged  rhythm section.

“You Never Know,” from 1980’s There & Back, is one of the final statements from Beck’s Jan Hammer fusion phase and fits like a glove with the later-on (and spectacular) “Led Boots” from its predecessor Wired.  In between, the gorgeous “Nadia” eases the throttle back and provides a spacious backdrop for a series of runs that range from swerving s-curves to gently soulful sustain.  “Angel (Footsteps)” finds Beck soloing high on the fretboard over a slumbering blues rhythm section, bending notes to the point where they twirl like a kaleidoscope.

On “Big Block,” like the closing “Where Were You” taken from 1990’s Guitar Shop, Beck’s bandmates build a heavy foundation over which he layers solos that sound like Jimmy Page as heard through a trans-galactic wormhole -- fat, shredding runs of distorted, extended notes that sound as otherworldly as anything Joe Satriani as ever managed.

A special treat near the finish is Beck’s mind-blowing take on “A Day In The Life,” a model of restraint in the early going as the maestro gives it a straight-up Albert Collins-style blues treatment and massages the melody beautifully.  And then the psychedelic middle section breaks in and Beck is all over the place, spitting out phrases in multiple different voicings in a seeming attempt to cover every vocal and melodic nuance of the original with just his single lead instrument.  Holy virtuoso, Batman.  Un-fricking-believable.

As mentioned in the opening of this review, this is not an easy album to love.  It twists and turns and sheds and adopts musical identities as quickly as an actor in a one-man show with 14 speaking parts.  But for the audience member with the fortitude to listen and perhaps learn from one of the greatest guitarists of our time, my advice is simple: buy this and prepare to have your mind blown.

Rating: A

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© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Eagle Records, and is used for informational purposes only.