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Despite Awe-Inspiring Fretwork,
Jeff Beck's Show Lacks Depth

Jeff Beck
Eagles Ballroom
March 11, 2001

Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck blasts off some chords.

Story by Tony Bonyata
Photos by Phil Bonyata

When guitar legend Jeff Beck hit the stage last Sunday night at Milwaukee's Eagles Ballroom, the predominately male 40-something crowd seemed a little befuddled by his latest foray into modern electronica and techno. This was the not the guitarist they'd remembered from his groundbreaking days with The Yardbirds of the '60s. Nor was it the man who'd later fuse jazz with his own British blues-rock, as he did on his two signature '70s albums Blow By Blow and Wired.
Jeff BECK Beck, looking slender and ageless at 56 with jet black shagadelic hair, black vest and sleeveless white shirt, opened up his show with the hard-edged industrial "Earthquake" from his latest album You Had It Coming. Amid the stacks of Marshall amps and over-zealous lights Beck gave his white Fender a work out as he choked the life into and out of the strings, while melting his fretwork with frenzied leads.
Although it seemed apparent, by the age of his followers, that they were there to hear the Jeff Beck material they grew up on, he instead focused more heavily on his material from the '80s along with his two recent techno-rock guitar albums,You Had It Coming and Who Else? Although the crowd was appreciative at times, they never seemed completely bowled over with the performance.
Despite his guitar work, which was awe-inspiring - with brick-wall chords, graceful passages and fluid leads that sliced like a hot knife to butter - the major problem with his show wasn't with what it had, but rather what it didn't have. With most traditional rock acts there are at least two to share and trade the spotlight, such as Page and Plant, Mick and Keith, Tyler and Perry and so on. With Beck's performance it was strictly his Strat that held court, which at times saw the attention of the crowd wander. And even though he was backed by a competent three-piece band (guitarist Jennifer Batton, bassist Randy Hope-Taylor and drummer Steve Alexander) the lack of vocals left an unmistakable void. The one exception to this was on a modern take of Muddy Waters "Rollin' and Tumblin,' that found Batten belting out the Delta-turned-Chicago bluesman's lyrics with a soulful sense of longing.
To apparently try and compensate, Beck brought along a busy, elaborate light show that threatened to turn 'Spinal Tap,' had there been one more motorized par spinning in time. Videos of both raging psychedelic patterns and close-ups of his fiery fretwork were shown on two large circular screens flanking both sides of the stage, that at times stole the thunder that Beck was creating.
Managing to tone down his love for modern electronica a bit, he turned in a rich, instrumental take on John Lennon's "A Day In The Life," piquing the audience's interest, before performing the haunting and introspective "Nadia," from his latest album.
While his new material is a refreshing update for this rock master, his live show could definitely use a boost with a little more vocals and a little less arena schtick.

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