Friday, March 25, 2011

Jeff & Imelda

Jeff Beck & Imelda May, 9:30 Club, Washington D.C. March 24, 2011
Photo: Greg McDermott

I've been going to a bunch of concerts lately, and I'm definitely falling behind in posting about them here. Hopefully this will be the first of several posts that will help clear the backlog.

Last night I went to the 9:30 Club in D.C. to see Jeff Beck. Jeff is my all-time guitar hero, and is the reason why, at age 44, I have decided to try to learn guitar. About a year ago, Jeff enlisted the services of Irish chanteuse Imelda May and her band to perform a tribute concert to Les Paul, on what would have been Les's 95th birthday. The concert covered quite a few of Les's songs as well as songs from the early history of rock and roll. Last night's D.C. show marked the start of a three week tour reuniting Jeff and the Imelda May Band for a reprise of the Les Paul tribute. I was fortunate to witness Jeff's virtuosity on covers of songs by Elvis, Gene Vincent, Les Paul, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Big Joe Turner and others, though I wished he could have thrown in at least one of two of his own songs. About the only song that Jeff had prior history with was a cover of "Train Kept a Rollin'", which Jeff also covered when he was a member of the Yardbirds. The venue was packed with a sell-out crowd of 898 Beck fans, with a median age somewhere well north of my 44 years. While waiting for the doors to open, the man in line behind me commented "This looks like the line for the assisted living facility". A number of these older folks were clearly not familiar with the 9:30 Club and its standing room only set-up. I was disappointed to find that my usual viewing spot at the club was roped off for a VIP section, so I settled into a spot on the upstairs rail as close to my normal spot as possible. There I made friends with Barbara and Lorraine, two 9:30 newbies who had trouble grasping the concept that if they wanted to watch the show from the rail, they had to stand at the rail until the concert started, or someone else would quickly take their place.

It is interesting to watch Beck play. He almost never uses a pick, playing instead with his fingers. Beck says he stopped using a pick in the early '80s, and has been quoted "I play the way I do because it allows me to come up with the sickest sounds possible. That's the point now, isn't it?" My favorite quote about Beck's playing comes from former Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore: "Jeff Beck plays notes that aren't on my guitar." Speaking of guitars, since this was a Les Paul-inspired concert, Beck used a number of Gibson products, including a Les Paul Standard, what appeared to be a Les Paul Recording, and an ES-175 archtop. However, he just doesn't look right without his signature white Stratocaster in his hands.

The hands of God (if God had time to play a strat)

Jeff doesn't interact with the crowd very much, and half of what he did say on the mic I couldn't understand anyway, but the crowd was more than happy to have him let his guitar do the talking. As for Imelda, the girl sure can sing, and she shimmies very well in a tight dress. She explained to the audience that she had pre-recorded back up vocals for some songs, and was singing the lead vocals over these precorded tracks, much like Mary Ford had done when singing with Les Paul. The lack of talking and the shorter songs of the early rock era allowed the band to pack 26 songs into a 90 minute show.

All in all a very enjoyable evening with one of my rock idols at one of my favorite clubs. Now I just have to wait for him to come back through town with his regular band playing Jeff Beck music!

Jeff Beck and Imelda May covering one of Les Paul's biggest hits at the original Les Paul Tribute concert.

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