The word ‘legend’ is often overused and applied to music artists who, while being excellent in their own right, fall short of this preserve of the upper echelons. When it comes to Jeff Beck however, the title is more than deserved. For more than 50 years, he has been regarded as one of the finest guitarists in the world during an illustrious career that began with The Yardbirds (which was also home to fellow guitar Gods Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page at different points). The question is whether he can still maintain the ridiculously high standards he has set himself now that he is well into his 70s.
Before the large crowd at St Davids Hall could find this out, they were treated to a set from Sharon Corr from the hit 90s group The Corrs (she was the violinist in case you’re wondering). With the crowd suitably warmed up, it was time to see if Beck could still play like he had sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads. The first thing that strikes you about Beck when he casually walks onto stage is his age-defying appearance. Wearing jeans, a white t-shirt and black waistcoat, this svelte guitar maestro looks around 20 years younger than he actually is. This was a portent of things to come because over the next hour and 20 minutes, he played like a much younger man and rolled back the years to deliver a flawless set which amply showcased his incredible talent and versatility as a guitarist.
The devoted audience was treated to Beck’s own material as well an eclectic range of cover versions such as A Day in the Life by the Beatles, Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on my Shoulder) by The Beach Boys and Nadia by Nitin Sawhney.
As you’d expect, it was when he cranked the guitar up for blues rock numbers from the likes of Lonnie Mack, it became impossible to keep your feet still and not wear the biggest of grins. If I have seen a finer guitarist in three decades of attending gigs, I cannot remember when that was.
A great guitarist needs a great band behind them however and Beck has secured a fine, tight group of musicians to back him up during this UK and European tour. The rhythm section of Rhonda Smith on bass and Anika Nilles on drums were especially good and provided the perfect foil for Beck’s fretwork.
At the close of the set, the adoring crowd demanded an encore even if it meant filtering out of St David’s at the same time as the tens of thousands leaving the Ed Sheeran gig elsewhere in the capital. During these topsy turvy times that we live in, it was perhaps fitting that Beck closed the show with a rendition of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’ As Beck himself quipped, ‘If Gaye was alive today he would probably call it What The Fuck Is Going On?’
In these tumultuous times, at least you can still rely on prodigiously talented guitarists to deliver the goods. Beck managed to live up to the high expectations built up more than half a century of playing and exceed them.