The “Stars Align” tour, featuring Jeff Beck, Paul Rodgers and Ann Wilson, stormed into Fivepoint Amphitheater in Irvine, California on Friday, July 20, 2018. Those three legendary performers did what they do best – Wilson and Rodgers belted out brilliant vocals on familiar songs while Beck blasted distinctive guitar solos on classic tunes. Not too surprisingly, the predominantly baby boomer audience ate it up.
Ann Wilson, the voice of seminal Rock & Roll Hall of Fame group Heart, still has the vocal range that makes her one of the greatest rock voices in history. Her set surprisingly lacked many of the well-known songs from the Heart catalog, however. She did perform a rousing version of “Barracuda,” but the rest of her set included cover tracks of tunes from bands she admires and songs from vocalists that have tragically died in the last year.
Those tribute tunes tie into Wilson’s new album Immortal, which is set to drop on September 14. It’s jam-packed with those songs remembering the legacy of some of rock’s best. She performed a few of those tracks at Fivepoint, including fine versions of Chris Cornell’s “I Am the Highway” and Glen Frey’s Eagles’ song “Life in the Fast Lane.” Wilson opened her set with a rowdy version of The Who’s “The Real Me” and closed it with a spectacular cover of their “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Her rebel yell near the end of the song eclipsed any delivered by Roger Daltrey in the recent past.
Paul Rodgers blew onto the stage next bringing his signature sound to the delight of the revved-up crowd. The vocalist, who achieved stardom with the bands Free and Bad Company and continued as the voice for The Firm and Queen, may not be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame like his co-headliners, but he deserves to be. At Fivepoint, Rodgers and his excellent band split the set between classic Free and Bad Company hits. Many of the songs had pounding rhythms and screeching guitar solos.
Love was the recurring theme for many of the tunes. Hits like “Little Bit of Love,” “Can’t Get Enough,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and “Ready for Love” had everyone singing along. The audience participation continued as they joined Rodgers on Bad Company classics “Shooting Star” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy.” The band came out for an encore and played the Free hit “All Right Now” as Rodgers let the audience sing the chorus to close the rousing set.
Jeff Beck proves over and over that he still has world-class chops and truly is one of the greatest guitarists of all time; his performance at Fivepoint Amphitheatre Friday night cemented that truth yet again. Beck is a two-time inductee in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – first in 1992 with the Yardbirds and again in 2009 as a solo artist. He has never been a particularly chatty or a flamboyant stage presence – the most action happens when he leisurely moves from his pedal set up on stage right over to stage left, where drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith are stationed – but he lets his magic fingers produce thousands of notes that express things beautifully.
His 18-song Fivepoint set was chockablock with instrumentals-only songs and loaded with covers from other artists’ work. It may typically be tough to keep an audience engaged during extended instrumental songs, but Beck and his band had no trouble doing so as they provided the greatest opportunity for him to show off his unique tone and finger ballet.
His bandmates also had plenty of chances to showcase their expertise. Drummer Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, Sting, Herbie Hancock) and brilliant bassist Rhonda Smith (Prince, Chaka Khan, Beyoncé, George Clinton) held down the low end and pummeled the chests of everyone in the audience with thumping beats. Cellist Freebairn-Smith added a sophisticated and warm presence to the mix with her bowing. The band played stellar versions of Billy Cobham’s “Stratus,” Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “You Know You Know” and The Chieftains’ “Mná na h-Éireann.” A few of the Beck originals stood out, particularly “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” and “You Never Know.”
It was part-time vocalist Jimmy Hall that was the only element of the show that was a letdown. While his soulful screaming had some high energy, it was a major disappointment knowing that two of the world’s greatest vocalists were in the wings watching. Why Jeff Beck chose not to bring Ann Wilson or Paul Rodgers onstage to sing the songs with lyrics is anyone’s guess. Hall made a valiant effort on covers like Otis Rush’s “I Have to Laugh,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” but he could not match the extraordinary talent behind him onstage.
The band ended the set with a uniquely arranged version of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” that started calm and nearly acoustic but transitioned into a psychedelic, electric showcase for Beck. The group left the stage at the end of the song, but Beck, Colaiuta and Freebairn-Smith came back soon after. Beck and Freebairn-Smith did an intimate duet tribute to Jeff Buckley while performing a Middle English hymn from the 1500s called “Corpus Christi Carol.” Jimmy Hall and Rhonda Smith joined the rest of the band for a riotous, show closing “Going Down,” a song written by Don Nix in 1969 and frequently covered by Beck.
The “Stars Align” tour continues for the next month with stops in over 20 cities across the U.S. and Canada including Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Toronto and Nashville, before wrapping August 26 in Tampa. If these stars align anywhere near you, be sure to check them out. Maybe Beck, Rodgers and Wilson will appear on stage together along the way and you’ll be treated to a truly magical celestial event in your city.
All photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon 2018©.