Jeff Beck at the Commodore: the world’s greatest rock guitarist plays the world’s best bar

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photo by kevin statham

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEB. 22, 2001

Jeff Beck is my favourite rock guitarist of all time, so I didn’t think twice about doing the necessary grovelling to secure a couple of backstage passes for his sold-out show at the Commodore. Because my Beck-loving buddy Bones was celebrating a birthday that night, I bestowed one of the prized vinyl patches on him, and after the gig both of us waited, starry-eyed, to shake hands with the 56-year-old rock legend and maybe score an autograph or two.

Hoping to make a personal connection with Beck, I’d brought along a copy of a recent interview I’d done with him, but when I pulled it out he seemed slightly miffed by the story’s headline: “In the Presence of God”. I told him that I didn’t write the headline, but the damage had been done. He clearly didn’t appreciate being referred to in divine terms. But then why had he just spent the last 90 minutes proving his omnipotence on the Commodore stage?

Beck can quibble with the analogy all he wants. To me, he’s the Almighty when it comes to electric guitar. I’ve never heard anyone make the instrument come alive in so many ways, and while utilizing so few gadgets. Sure, there were plenty of prerecorded techno sounds sprinkled throughout last Saturday’s (February 17) set, but when it came to Beck’s performance, it was basically just Strat guitars and Marshall amps, used to conjure everything from honey-toned murmurs to cartoonish squawks, from low-end rumbles to high-pitched squeals.

He covered all the sonic bases while adventurously reinventing tunes by the Beatles (“A Day in the Life”), Muddy Waters (“Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ”), and Indian musician Nitin Sawhney (“Nadia”). But it was on his own material, such as the reggae-tinged “Behind the Veil” and the delicately soaring “Where Were You”, that Beck most prominently displayed his fiercely original fretwork.

Sturdy backup for his impassioned playing was provided by bassist Randy Hope-Taylor and new drummer Andy Gangadeen, who used to play with the Spice Girls and who showed up backstage wearing a dress, much to Bones’s dismay. Blond coguitarist Jennifer Batten didn’t contribute nearly as many solos as she did when Beck played the Queen Elizabeth Theatre 17 months ago.

Apart from a couple of brief excursions to the microphone, she remained at stage left, looking sharp in a black top hat while gracefully weaving complex rhythm patterns. Beck had no mike of his own and didn’t say a word the whole time; he only nodded appreciatively and held up his arms to the ecstatic cheers of his devoted followers.

Isn’t that what gods are supposed to do?

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