For the second time in as many weeks a truly legendary pop music icon has made an appearance at the newly upgraded Chumash casino resort in Santa Ynez. Two weeks ago it was the inimitable Stevie Wonder who made an astounding two night sold out stop at the Samala Showroom inside the resort. Thursday night, August 11, Jeff Beck brought his guitar drenched 50th anniversary show to the same venue. Beck, who is arguably the greatest living rock guitarist, played nearly two hours for a very lucky sold out crowd of just over one thousand ecstatic fans. The show was even more remarkable considering that Beck had just played the 18,000 seat Hollywood Bowl the night before.
The English musician began his career as a guitarist in his teens, playing in a series of mostly R&B cover bands with some regional success. But it was in 1965 that Jeff Beck rose to international prominence as a member of the hugely successful pop rock group The Yardbirds. Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page recommended Beck as a replacement for original guitarist Eric Clapton. Later Page and Beck both played in the band. In the 1966 British film “Blow Up,” by then a young director named Michelangelo Antonioni, there is a scene where the main character in the film runs through a club where the Yardbirds were playing. In the brief sequence Beck and Page can be seen trading riffs on The Yardbirds remake of the Tiny Bradshaw blues classic “Train Kept A-Rollin”. Beck has been dubbed the “Guitarists Guitarist” and may be the most innovative of the triumvirate English rock icons to emerge from The Yardbirds.
The 72 year old master of guitar innovation came right out of the gate leading his masterful quartet of musicians with all guns blazing, launching straight into a song from Loud Hailer, his brand new album, the 17th of his solo career. The group opened with “The Revolution Will Be Televised” from the new album, that is a homage to musician, poet and social activist Gil Scott-Heron, and in fact, the album is probably the most politically oriented that Beck has ever recorded. He collaborated with two of the members of his touring band singer Rosie Bones and guitarist Carmen Vandenberg, known as Bones, while making the politically charged album. The gritty vocal style of Bones lends itself well to the fiery lyrics on the new release. She confused the audience a bit at the Samala showroom Thursday as she wandered about the back of the venue singing through a megaphone, without a spotlight.
Meanwhile, Beck and the band began wailing in a cacophony of sound and light on the main stage. As adulate fans stood to get a better look at the rock icon, few knew where the vocals were actually coming from. Bones disappeared into the darkness as the band launched into the second song, an instrumental hit song called “Freeway Jam” from Beck’s innovative 1975 album Blow By Blow. This fusion era highlighted Beck’s unique and innovative style of playing electric guitar. For the most part he gave up using a pick in favor of using his calloused fingers. Sometimes he bashes the strings with his thumb creating a funk like sound almost like a bass player. His picking style is constantly in flux constantly searching for new microtonal areas. His use of the tremolo bar keeps his sound rooted in 60’s hard rock, while at the same time expanding his tones into constantly new and innovative territory. The result is a symphony of guitar sounds that a trio of experienced pickers would be hard pressed to emulate. The explosive song also highlighted the requisite skills of the fusion rhythm section composed of Rhonda Smith on bass and Jonathan Joseph on drums. Their jazz oriented style matched perfectly with Beck’s masterful techniques.
After several more songs from the new album, Beck changed up the tempo with one of the most dramatic songs of the night, a cover salute to Mahavishnu Orchestra and their 1972 classic “You Know You Know”. The explosive cover was a testament to the powerful guitar style of one of the only modern music guitar players to rival Beck’s finesse, John McLaughlin. The dramatic song also highlighted the immense rhythm section talents of Smith and Joseph, with their respective bass and drum solos.
Beck then changed the mood again bringing out his longtime collaborator Jimmy Hall, the former lead singer and harmonica player for the Southern rock band Wet Willie. Hall has played with Beck as far back as 1985, when he was nominated for a Grammy his work on Beck’s album Flash. The band with Hall on the microphone launched into two soul drenched blues covers of “Morning Dew” and “A Change Is Gonna Come,” by Bonnie Dobson and Sam Cooke respectively. On the latter, Hall was able to hit some ear shattering and starling high notes that wowed the crowd and repeatedly brought them to their feet.
Beck returned to the Blow By Blow album with another nod to Stevie Wonder, playing and astonishing version of “Cause We Ended As Lovers”. Bones returned to sing lead vocals on several more songs from the new album in a blues drenched style finding the throaty singer sprawling across the floor of the stage. The mood returned to the political vent of the new album and the singer expressed the anguished emotion of the lyrics perfectly.
The band returned to the instrumental mode with one of Beck’s most well known tracks “Bolero.” The stinging guitar drenched track was first recorded in 1966 by Jeff Beck on lead guitar, Jimmy Page on a 12 string, John Paul Jones on bass, Keith Moon on drums and Nicky Hopkins on piano. Jimmy hall returned to sing and play harmonica on the last four songs of the set. These included yet another homage to Stevie Wonder featuring a spirited version of “Superstition.” The crowd by this time had surged forward pressing against the barricades and as is the custom at the Samala showroom, eager fans were allowed to swarm the front of the stage for the end of the show.
The double encore began with a Muddy Waters classic American blues song, “Little Brown Bird”. Hall returned to sing and play an appropriately rocking harmonica solo. The final encore featured an almost magical instrumental version of The Beatles classic, “A Day in the Life”. The huge crowd that stayed to meet him was a testament to the power of this amazing group of musicians.