By Steve Newton
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 23, 1999
Apart from an arena show with Rod Stewart in the ’80s, it had been nearly 25 years since fans of Jeff Beck last saw him play here, so the anticipatory vibe that surged through the Queen E around 9 p.m. last Saturday (September 18) was understandable. But even the guitar legend’s most devoted followers must have been taken aback by the astonishing performance the 55-year-old player put on. By the time it was over, anyone who had ever proclaimed “Clapton is God!” had to seriously consider a new religion.
Beck was touring in support of his first studio album in six years, the techno-tinged Who Else?, and fortunately for all involved he brought along the skilled musicians from that project: guitarist Jennifer Batten, bassist Randy Hope-Taylor, and drummer Steve Alexander. Although Beck’s fabled six-string virtuosity was the main draw, it was the telepathic interaction of all four players that made the show unforgettable. I kept expecting one of these stalwarts to slip up amid the intensely challenging material, but as far as I could tell they never did.
The concert was so consistently potent that it’s tricky to choose highlights, but one would have to be the flawless version of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”, which saw the group boldly re-create that song’s famous symphonic crescendo. Another was “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”, the Stevie Wonder–penned tune that Beck turned into a homage to Roy Buchanan on the superior Blow by Blow album of ’75. For that poignant number Beck strapped on a Telecaster to duplicate Buchanan’s partial-harmonic picking and severe note-stretching; in the rest of the show, he did the damage with his trademark white Strat.
While Beck’s fierce attack and fabulously fat tone put the boots to new compositions like “THX138” and oldies such as Don Nix’s “I’m Going Down”, it became evident during a blistering version of Muddy Waters’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ” that Batten is also one of the world’s best rock guitarists. The former Michael Jackson picker matched Beck note for note during their feverish guitar battle, and when she wasn’t taking Eddie Van Halen’s neck-tapping technique to incredible new heights, she was deftly using a MIDI guitar to conjure all manner of keyboardlike effects. Here’s hoping that, if Beck doesn’t come back to town for another 25 years, Batten returns in his stead.
Quite frankly, it wouldn’t be a bad tradeoff.