(Eagle Rock Entertainment, 155 minutes)
BY REV. KEITH A. GORDON
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Jeff Beck first came
to prominence as Eric Clapton’s replacement in the legendary British blues-rock
band the Yardbirds. Better than four decades have passed since that time, and
Beck has shown a maddening propensity for confounding the expectations of any
observer. His impressive catalog of music ranges from blues-rock and proto-heavy
metal to jazz-fusion, pop, and even reggae, his restless talents seemingly
knowing no boundaries.
Week…Live At Ronnie Scott’s documents the highlights of a week’s worth of (mostly
instrumental) performances from 2007 by Beck and his hand-picked band of
bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, keyboardist Jason Rebello, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta,
caught on camera at the legendary Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in the Soho district
of London. Featuring material drawn from across Beck’s storied career and
eclectic musical tastes, the DVD also features several additional songs that
weren’t included on the set’s companion CD, mostly those performances with
The DVD opens with “Beck’s Bolero,” a song as
familiar to 20th century classic rock fans as “Greensleeves” was to
17th century bluebloods. Beck’s fretwork here is fluid, elegant, until the song
hits its stride and Beck and crew roll into a free-form jam that amps up both
the volume and the energy level. Beck immediately gets his fusion groove on,
tearing into a fast-n-furious take of John McLaughlin’s “Eternity’s
Breath” that too soon jumps into Billy Cobham’s masterful
“Stratus” with a jazz-rock barrier-shattering sonic boom. Propelled
by Colaiuta’s massive beats and young (female) bassist Wilkenfeld’s gentle
rhythms, Beck threads the song with manic string-bending, mauling his Strat
like a hungry sabretooth as the band rocks a steady groove.
Beck imbues Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended As
Lovers” with a heartbroken angst. The song includes a fine bass solo from
Wilkenfeld that reminds of Jaco Pastorius with its simple elegance and complex
flavor. As she gets a funky heartbeat rolling, Beck strolls back into the
spotlight with a bluesy solo played low on the fretboard that, with clever use
of the whammy bar, adds greatly to the emotional vibe.
The only vocal performances here are courtesy of Beck’s
guests, and first up to the plate is young R&B pop songbird Joss Stone.
Stone adequately fills Rod Stewart’s shoes on the soulful “People Get
Ready,” doing a fine job with the song’s Southern gospel-styled vocals.
The star of the song, however, is Beck’s mesmerizing guitar line that serves as
the tune’s recurring musical motif. At once both earnest and audacious, the
riff creates an almost sanctified ambiance, one that is bolstered by Rebello’s
reverent keyboard fills.
Old Beck friend, colleague, and sometimes competitor Eric
Clapton steps in for a jaunty, Chi-town styled cover of Muddy Waters’ lusty
“Little Brown Bird.” Beck breaks out the bottleneck for this one,
rolling low on the guitar’s neck for a wicked, greasy slide sound. Both
guitarists deliver scorching solos; Beck’s taking a hard-rocking edge whereas
Slowhand’s turn is all graceful pomp-n-circumstance.
The pair then tackles the Willie Dixon-penned/Led
Zeppelin-mutated “You Need Love.” Absent Page’s banshee wail, the
song take on more of a houserockin’ juke-joint sound. Clapton’s vocals are
somewhat subdued at first, but he manages to descend into a primal Howlin’ Wolf
growl for the better part of the song. The clashing guitars one-up Page’s
original intent, Beck mauling his fretboard with reckless abandon as EC
slaps-n-tickles a Cream-styled, bottom-heavy blues groove.
Imogen Heap joins the band for a couple of tunes, the best
performance of the two being a raging version of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’
And Tumblin’.” Heap’s ethereal vocals are oddly at home here, soaring
above a novel arrangement that is one part psychedelic-blues switchblade rumble
– complete with fantasia-colored wah-wah effects – and one part funky tribal
drum circle with concrete rhythms. Above it all, Beck’s axe squalls and roars
like a wild boar in heat. I don’t know what ol’ Muddy would think of what
they’ve done to his song, but he’d have to be impressed by the raw energy and
sensuality of the performance.
This Week…Live At Ronnie Scott’s is an ambitious work, representing several
decades of Beck’s wanderings across the musical landscape. The performances are
energetic, the camerawork brilliant, capturing every bit of the sweat and tears
that went into the making of the music. No doubt that Beck’s loyal cadre of
fans was collectively salivating when they heard that this DVD – Beck’s first
concert disc – was going to be released; I suspect that it lives up to their greatest
Special Features: Interviews with Jeff Beck and members of his band.