SWIFT KICK TO THE SOLAR PLEXUS / DAVE SCHOOLS

 

White (Led) Boots

 

It would be an understatement to
say that the wife and I don’t get out much.

 

We’re pretty fond of our two dogs,
one cat, and responsibilities to our vegetable garden. After nearly 25 years on
the road, a vacation to me is waking up somewhere familiar with coffee but a
few steps away. A night out on the town is usually going to the local market to
buy something swell to cook up for dinner.

 

The decision to go to Oakland to see the last performance of Jeff Beck’s 2009 U.S.
tour was a no-brainer, however. After all, Beck was flying high from his recent
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction for his storied solo career. Add in the
twin engines of his band being so damn tight and the venue being the newly
renovated Fox Theater in Oakland,
and we quickly decided the trip down from the country would be in our best
interests for fast fun.

 

***

 

This past April, Jeff Beck was inducted into
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
…for the second time in his career. Beck’s
first trip to the Hall was in 1988 for his stint in The Yardbirds.

 

Why should anyone care? I’ll tell
you why. It’s because Jeff Beck is a master of the electric guitar and one of
the few great innovators in rock and roll. Ask any guitarist or serious music
appreciator who the best is, and Beck’s name will likely be the answer. Don’t
believe me? Ask Clapton,
King,
or Vaughan.
Or ask Christopher Guest, who modeled the gum-chewing Nigel “This goes to 11”
Tufnell of Spinal Tap after Beck. That’s
enough to warrant entry into the Hall’s hallowed space in my book.

 

No other guitarist has Beck’s sonic
palette and incredible range of expression. 10,000 hours logged mastering his
craft aside, Beck has reinvented himself time and time again, framing his
patented twang-bar Stratocaster sound with an assortment of musicians and
musical styles that would make the likes of Frank Zappa or Miles Davis proud. “It’s
a form of illness really, isn’t it,” he said in a recent Gibson.com interview. “If you choose music there’s no real limits to how far you can dig
to better yourself and improve…it’s a bottomless pit of inspiration.”

 

Today’s mainstream music industry
lacks any real credibility, which is why it was so refreshing to see the Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame get something right for change. Far too often innovative
artists are overlooked for inclusion in award shows and the Hall of Fame to
make room for the popularity contest winners and multi-platinum acts. With Madonna’s
induction last year, the Hall became a sad joke among my friends and peers,
much like when the first Grammy award for “Best Heavy Metal Album” was given to
Jethro Tull over the obviously deserving Metallica in 1989. It was one of those
classic “what-the-fuck-were-they-thinking” moments and showed how far out of
touch the industry had become. But Beck’s induction was a case where all the
egos were set aside to honor an innovator who has been around since the
beginnings of modern rock. The look of pure joy on the face of Jimmy Page,
Beck’s childhood friend and former Yardbirds band mate, was contagious. There
was one of rock’s silver-haired elder statesmen inducting one of his close
friends while practically jumping up and down and clapping his hands like an excited
schoolgirl. Ever the gentleman, Beck graciously thanked Page and many of his
peers in his brief acceptance speech, a humble genius who most likely would
have preferred being at home working on one of his vintage hot rods.

 

Hit up YouTube and check out the
version of “Beck’s
Bolero”
from Beck’s performance at the induction ceremony. In the middle of
the tune, he stops, introduces Jimmy Page, and proceeds to rip into an
instrumental jam of “The Immigrant Song” for a few moments before careening
back into the end of “Bolero.” Notice how Page, one of Beck’s oldest schoolyard
chums, never strays from the supportive rhythm guitar role, thereby allowing
Beck to do what he does best: wring lead vocal sounds out of his signature white
Stratocaster. Believe me, Beck was hitting high notes that Robert Plant hasn’t
been able to achieve since 1971.

 

Last summer while on tour, a friend
of mine passed along a bootleg DVD of various Beck live performances that
featured the entire set from Clapton’s Crossroads Blues Festival in Chicago
2007. Beck’s band – drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and keyboardist Jason Rebello along
with the amazing young bass prodigy Tal Wilkenfeld – blew me away. Members of
Panic who ventured up to the front lounge of the bus would stop in their tracks
to share in the amazement Jimmy Herring and I enjoyed while repeatedly watching
the DVD over and over again. The band was tight and it was very clear that Beck
was happy and being pushed to new creative heights. He even let Wilkenfeld take
a bass solo on his beautiful rendition of “Because
We’ve Ended As Lovers.”
But the capstone of the show was the set ending
performance of John Lennon’s “A Day In The Life.” I
had seen him play this tune before, but this particular performance featured
joy, sadness, and exuberance coupled with an utter mastery of the guitar and
melody incarnate. Never allowing the melodic intent of the original version to
give way to chops this performance was something for the ages.

 

Soon after I’d received the DVD,
music industry blogger supreme Bob Lefsetz devoted one
of his daily rants to the mastery of Jeff Beck
. I wrote Bob an email about
how we’d been enjoying Beck’s Crossroads performance on the tour bus, which
he published
. Jimmy Herring began to integrate Beckisms into his arsenal
onstage. Throughout last summer’s tour, I’d hear a primal squonk from stage
right and look over to see Herring laughing his ass off at my surprise as he’d slip
a quote from one of Beck’s tunes into one of his own improvised guitar solos. I
made up my mind I’d catch Beck at the next opportunity.

 

***

 

The bell on my iPhone Inbox buzzed
as we were preparing to leave for our first trip to the Fox Theater in Oakland. Lefsetz Letter of
the Day has arrived, boasting a glowing tweet from Beck’s show in L.A.
the night before. Rod Stewart had apparently surprised Beck onstage (their
first appearance together in over 25 years) for a sweet rendition of Curtis
Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.”
The news only heightened our expectations for
the show we were about to see.

 

We arrived at the Fox and were
promptly met by Veronice, the ticket gal for Another Planet Entertainment who
showed us inside the beautifully
restored former movie palace
. Allen from Another Planet gave us a walking
tour, and we were duly impressed to say the least. More than $90 million went
into the renovation of the theater, and I must say it looked to have been money
well spent. The Oakland Fox is similar to its namesake Fox theaters in St. Louis and Atlanta
but with one serious difference: the Oakland Fox is laid out in the great
tradition of the most fan friendly music venues. Rather than fixed seating all
the way to the stage, there is a general admission pit that holds 1,900 music
lovers. Behind the pit area are tiers for standing room with some small
cocktail tables and a massive bar. The balcony features seating for another
900. There’s a smoking section, more bars, and a small café that serves food,
which is open whether there’s a show or not.

 

Upon arriving at the VIP area, it
was clear the musos were coming out tonight in full force to see the master at
work. A tequila-wielding Sammy Hagar greeted us with a wide smile. The drummer
from the Chili Peppers arrived soon thereafter, followed by someone who I’m
pretty sure was an incognito Joe Satriani. Not knowing that these guys were ¾
of the new band, Chickenfoot I
amusedly thought to myself that we could make one helluva band. Sorry Michael
Anthony…I just didn’t know yet!

 

The Fox boasts a state-of-the-art
line array sound system, which means that the sound in the back of the balcony
is just as clean and loud as it is on the floor or in front of the stage. I
have yet to see a more fan friendly venue as classy as Oakland’s Fox Theater. And despite all of its
glorious beauty, what shone brightest that night was the music that happened
onstage.

 

Clad head to toe in white (including
white felt boots with fringe), Jeff Beck took the stage and the band revved into
“Beck’s Bolero.” All hands were raised when Vinnie Colaiuta began the infamous
drum intro to “Led Boots,” and by the time the song was in high gear, those
same hands were unanimously performing the Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy”
genuflection.

 

Jeff Beck’s performance in Oakland was a staggering
display of electric virtuosity without musical snobbery and overt academics.
The band was tight, but loose enough to have a little fun. The humorous
highlight of the evening was Wilkenfeld’s bass solo which morphed into Beck’s
famous “Freeway Jam” (which has been noticeably absent from the setlist for
nearly a decade) featuring
her playing the melody in the upper register while Beck played the bass line in
the lower register of her guitar at the same time
. To me this is a sign of
a master at work and having fun. Something also tells me that Wilkenfeld is
having a good effect on Beck and loosening him up. This kind of behavior bodes
well for a future studio recording (which I hear is in the works) with this
band.

 

After finishing the show with a
powerful rendition of “A Day In The Life,” Beck took a victory lap performing
“Where Were You” with Rebello providing an eerily stark keyboard accompaniment.
The rest of the band returned and put the pedal to the metal with “A Scottish
One” and a final twist of humor with “Peter Gunn.” We exited the beautiful Fox
Theater exhilarated by what we had just witnessed. Beck is truly a master and
he seemed to be riding high, buoyed by the strength of his supporting cast. He
roared through all of his gears with grace and humor while keeping melody in
the pole position where it belongs: firmly in the hands of the master.

 

Dave Schools blames
his strange obsession with Jeff Beck on finding a copy of the Yardbirds bootleg
Golden Eggs in a mom
‘n’ pop record store as a teenager. When not blogging for BLURT or playing bass
for Widespread Panic in front of thousands of screaming fans, Dave likes to
dance… tap dance.

 

[Photo Credit: SonomaMan]

 

 

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