Jeff Beck Live At BB King Blues Club

   On September 10 2003 Jeff Beck played an intimate club show in New York City to a packed audience of fortunate fans. What really made this show special is it marked a temporary reunion of the band responsible for 1989's legendary Guitar Shop  album: powerhouse drummer Terry Bozio and keyboardist Tony Hymans.

   This important show was released in late 2003 as an extremely limited edition CD exclusively through Beck's website. As the word got around about just how fierce the performance was, the title was quickly snapped up by fans and collectors almost immediately rendering it out of print. A rare 2006 Japanese import edition similarly sold out rapidly.

   In 2011 a reissue appeared courtesy of Friday Music with improved digi-pak packaging (the '03 website version came in just a cardboard sleeve) and new liner notes.

   The set is a well balanced mix of Beck favourites ("Freeway Jam", "People Get Ready", Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat") and newer material ("Psycho Sam", "My Thing") and not surprisingly three cuts from the Guitar Shop album.  Inspired by playing in such close quarters and clearly enjoying being together again, the trio play with enthusiasm and unbridled energy.

   Live At BB King Blues Club is a valuable snap-shot of the extraordinary Guitar Shop  line-up making history in a small club environment.

Jeff Beck Emotion & Commotion

   In Jeff Beck's world the last few years have been particularly productive for the previously semi-reclusive guitar hero.  He released a scorching DVD Live At Ronnie Scott's drawn from a week of hot shows at an intimate London club and then won a Grammy for the performance of "A Day In The Life" on it.  In April of 2009 he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as a solo performer (he was previously admitted in 1992 as a member of The Yardbirds) where he jammed with both Jimmy Page and Metallica. Then in October of the same year his set was one of the highlights of the Hall Of Fame anniversary shows in New York City where he also performed with Stevie Wonder. February 2010 saw a quick co-headlining tour with Eric Clapton where he nightly schooled Ol' Clappers without even breaking a sweat.
    Now we have Emotion & Commotion  Beck's first studio album of new material since 2003. The new release combines Jeff's fusion styled hard rock with some orchestral pieces and a few female vocalists even join in on select tracks.
    The album opens with an elegant reading of "Corpus Christi Carol" a hymn covered by Jeff Buckley on his 1994 debut Grace. Using a technique he established on his 1989 album Guitar Shop, Beck articulates Buckley's exquisite vocal with delicate sensitivity. He picks a note with his thumb, gently fades in the volume knob and then eases the whammy bar to add a haunting vibrato while a full orchestra swells behind him. He uses the same method on "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" done in a similar arrangement as by Hawaiian vocalist Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.

 

  The next track "Hammerhead" starts with some heavy wah-wah pedal (unusual for Beck) then slams into a muscular groove for the guitarist to lay his explosive axe work over. "Hammerhead" was a regular part of the set during the recent tour where it really came alive.

  The ethereal "Serene" has some cool and clean playing from Beck with a rubbery counterpoint offered by bassist Tal Wilkenfield. The track is a powerful showcase for the subtle lyricism of Beck's playing over the lush orchestra behind him.​
  Nina Simone's "Lilac Wine" follows (also via Jeff Buckley's Grace album) featuring Irish vocalist Imelda May who sounds extremely comfortable with the material. She should be, she performed the song live with Jeff at The Royal Albert Hall in the summer of 2009 and then again in September of that year when Beck returned the favor by joining her band for an intimate club gig. Here May warmly caresses each word of the lyrics while Beck weaves around her. Who knew Jeff was such a fan of Grace  to cover two songs from it!
  Like Imelda May, British soul singer Joss Stone has worked with Beck before, she appears on his Live At Ronnie Scott's  DVD performing "People Get Ready". On the new album she takes on two tracks, a smoldering cover of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins hit "I Put A Spell On You" and a new tune the fierce "There's No Other Me". The song begins over a stuttering beat with Stone and Beck sizing each other up like two prize fighters circling in the ring. They jab at each other tentatively before exploding at the chorus with a flurry of aggressive blows. The way too early fade out suggests the bout went way past three rounds.
  The goal of blending a full orchestra with guitar is most fully realized on the majestic rendition of "Nessun Dorma" where Beck replicates Pavarotti's passionate singing perfectly with his own weapon of choice.
   Emotion & Commotion is available in an essential special 2 disc edition which has a bonus live DVD featuring six songs from the July 28 2007 Crossroads Festival in Chicago. Why they didn't release the complete ten song set is a mystery to me as the show was incredible. But these six tracks are beautifully shot and the footage is simply of the master performing at the top of his game.

  He's Beck and he's the best.


  Robert Lawson 2010. 

This article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of Needle Magazine.