New Theatre, Oxford, 17/5/2014
published: 6 /
Nick Dent-Robinson watches former Yardbird guitarist Jeff Beck, who is seventy this year, play a dynamic set at the New Theatre in Oxford
As he approaches his 70th birthday, Jeff Beck is hugely busy. Having played arenas recently with Eric Clapton - another of the Yardbirds' “holy trinity” - Beck has been performing with ex-Beach Boy Brian Wilson, an experience that was not always fun, fun, fun - apparently. And soon Beck is heading to the USA to tour through the summer months with ZZ Top.
So, Oxford audiences were lucky to get the chance to see Jeff Beck play live at the town's New Theatre on Saturday 17th May. 'Rolling Stone' magazine put Beck fifth in their list of the world's greatest guitarists, but I wonder whether anyone could actually have surpassed his technical brilliance at Oxford. Beck has in the past said he admired Richard Thompson, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Albert Lee, Joe Brown, Robbie Robertson, Alvin Lee and Hank Marvin - though all in quite different ways – and he always makes it clear that because styles and genres vary so much, he sees such comparisons as meaningless. Which is probably true.
But, having been lucky enough to see Jeff Beck's Oxford performance, I can certainly confirm he appears to have lost none of his skill or huge energy. It was a beautifully paced set which allowed one time to wonder at the way Beck can display so much power and delicacy, tone and melody, light and shade in a single song. It really was a master class. Highlights included Beck's take on 'Danny Boy', a pretty and tender version of Hendrix's 'Little Wing', a powerful performance of 'Rollin' and Tumblin' as well as a majestic cover of the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life' – possibly as a tribute to George Martin who oversaw production of Beck's 'Blow by Blow' album.
Powerful percussive support came from Jonathan Joseph (who is the husband of Joss Stone's mum, for those who wish to know about such things), and there was also the talented bassist and vocalist Rhonda Smith who has toured extensively with Prince.
Jeff Beck never sold as many records as Eric Clapton (or the Stones or even Abba!), but he is without question as fine a guitarist as most of us are likely ever to see. The auditorium was packed – and there were several household names from the music world in attendance. But it is sad there were so few young people there. There are many great musicians they will never have a chance to see playing live – like Hendrix or Harrison or Duane Allman. But here was an opportunity to relish the superb artistry of Jeff Beck which still seems remarkable unfaded.