After a few songs Monday night, Jeff Beck took his hands off his guitar and shook them, as if they needed to be cooled down. Maybe that was for show, but it's certainly possible, after serving up one scorching lead after another, that he needed some relief.
Beck played a distinctive, fiery, shape-shifting 90-minute set that moved fluidly among four distinct styles – hard funk, searing jazz-rock fusion, fearsome blues and quiet, almost otherworldly pop – plus an encore that featured some opera and a tribute to Les Paul.
He was at his best when he slowed down, giving dreamy, textured readings of The Beatles' "A Day in the Life," "Cause We've Ended As Lovers," "People Get Ready," "Over the Rainbow" and "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Though he could – and probably should – play these unaccompanied, for some unknown reason Beck loves this style to be infused with lush keyboards that sound like a string section. That makes them sound almost like light jazz. But you learn to ignore that and listen to the vibrant tone of his guitar. Sometimes he made it sing, but he also made it scream. This, more than anyplace else in his repertoire, is where Beck shows his heart.
It's not necessarily what his fans want, though. They want to see his fingers flying up and down the neck, to hear him shred notes and chords. He didn't disappoint. Backed by a tight, high-octane band featuring Jason Rebello on keyboards, Narada Michael Walden on drums and Rhonda Smith on bass, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was at his most powerful on "Led Boots," "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and "I Want to Take You Higher."
He introduced the last of those by saying that what he was about to play was the best thing performed at Woodstock. When he said that, I expected either "Soul Sacrifice," "I'm Going Home" or "The Star Spangled Banner." But this romping, stomping version of the Sly Stone tune made it hard to argue.
Jeff Beck at the Egyptian Room, June 21