Thursday, June 24, 2010


Yeah... it's the blog that occasionally rises out of the mist then disappears again. Or maybe it's the blogger herself who's doing that. Perhaps I am mythical. :)

Got a concert review for you, but first a quick note - my poem "Cover" (which comes from "Chasing Angels," my manuscript about a fictional rock musician) is up at Hamilton Stone Review. Go take a peek if you are so inclined! Fellow blogger Jessie Carty has a couple of poems in the same issue.

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So I was fortunate enough to have a ticket to see legitimate guitar god Jeff Beck in Indy the other night. I'd never seen him before, though I've seen videos and so had pretty high expectations of the performance. I left Bloomington in a rush just ahead of a storm rolling in - managed to outrun it, which kind of set the tone for the night. When I got into the venue I made a quick pit stop and was highly, highly amused to note that there was a line out into the lobby area for the men's room, and no line to speak of for the women's room. Yes, it was just that testosterone-laden a crowd. It's been a long time since I was at a show with that kind of audience; Springsteen crowds tend to be pretty gender-balanced.

The opening act was a singer-songwriter type with an acoustic guitar and a small keyboard, accompanied by a second guitarist. She was pretty and had a nice voice, with a pleasant Lilith Fair-ish vibe, but ultimately fairly uninspiring. And really, a crowd full of middle-aged electric-guitar geeks (I seriously overheard at least two conversations going into great technical detail about some piece of equipment or other - guitars, amps, etc.) just was not her crowd.

Finally Jeff Beck and his band (Narada Michael Walden on drums, Rhonda Smith on bass, and Jason Rebello on keyboards) took the stage. The first number was seriously rocking, and the energy in the venue increased a thousandfold. The drums kicked in and I realized it had been way too long since I'd been to a good loud concert. Sometimes, a girl just needs to rock!

The venue had folding chairs set up, and I had mixed feelings about the seated thing. The seats were narrow and close together, and it was hot & crowded. When Beck & band took the stage everyone leaped up and stood for the first couple of songs, and that felt really good, but being 5 foot 1 I can't see much in a situation like that (I was back in about the 15th row, which isn't too far back, but at my height it doesn't take much). Throughout the evening a lot of songs elicited standing ovations - it was like church up in there with all the stand up sit down stand up sit down!); when people were sitting I could see the stage nicely, but it is really hard for me to listen to music like that and just sit still. Standing up allows me to experience the music physically, with my whole body.

So we got everything from screaming rock to blues to jazz to standards: an incredibly diverse setlist. Beck's versions of some tunes, like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," verged on - I hate to say it - "smooth jazz." That is not a compliment. But he made even those tame tunes come alive with his sheer virtuosity. When he coaxes notes like that out of his white Stratocaster, all is forgiven. "Rainbow" a real showcase for his absolute control of tone and dynamics, and the audience seemed particularly taken with it. I will admit I preferred the more rocking tunes myself. There was one song (I'm not good at titles when there are no lyrics to remind me) with a heavy, heavy bass that sounded almost Led Zeppelin-esque, and I really loved that one.

His band was wonderful. The keyboards were necessary for the more orchestral arrangements; for other songs, he could very well have managed with only the guitar/bass/drums trio. Narada Michael Walden was fantastic, very musical (something I don't always get from drummers), and his presence was buoyant, a radiant energy behind the drum kit. Rhonda Smith, who played with Prince for a number of years, was incredibly funky and soulful and versatile on the bass and occasional vocals. I love how Jeff Beck uses the bass; though I never saw his previous touring band in person, I've seen video and the bassist from that band, Tal Wilkenfeld, is also absolutely brilliant. (Look her up. I think she's playing with Herbie Hancock now.)

Oftentimes Beck would be completely absorbed in his playing, standing sideways to the audience in order to better communicate with his band. He was all about the music, not so much the showmanship - which is absolutely fine. He spoke several times to introduce songs, but not at length, and kind of awkwardly; you got the feeling he mostly just wanted to shut up and play.

During the show he played two different white Stratocasters. The Strat is so integral to his sound, the way it sustains and sings and soars. So when he strapped on a black Les Paul for a song during the encore, the audience reacted with surprise and interest. He introduced it as a tribute to the great Les Paul, who died not long ago and with whom Beck had a longtime friendship, and played "How High the Moon." It was fascinating to hear the radical difference in tone and feel between the LP and the Strat, how he played it like it was a different instrument entirely - much more staccato, with notes that popped and crackled instead of soaring and searing. A lot of fun to hear this, and he seemed to enjoy the change of pace.

All in all he played about an hour and a half, including his interpretations of "People Get Ready" and the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" among many others. Not a Springsteenian marathon show, but not half bad for a guy just a couple days from his 66th birthday, and certainly enough to be satisfying. When I finally made my way out of the venue, the sky was strobing with distant lightning, flickering like busted neon among the tall buildings of downtown Indianapolis. All the way home I was accompanied by near-constant, distant lightning and a hazy, hazy moon. It seemed perfectly appropriate, though I couldn't tell you why.

I'll leave you with a video taken by someone else at the show. The still photos above are mine; I took some videos, and you can find them on my YouTube account, but the audio on them is pretty atrocious (my camera's just not built for audio). Enjoy!


Mindy said...

Man I missed out! I totally should have drove up for this. Great review and I LOVE the accompanying photos, especially the one of his standing to the side.

Anne said...

Thanks, Mindy! Glad you enjoyed. One of these days we will have to manage to meet up for a show. I've been known to drive down to Louisville now and then, although not lately :)

Jessie Carty said...

Love living music through you! And so kewl to be in hamilton with you :)

Lisa Allender said...

Glad I chose today, to re-connect.
Peace to you. Summer is being good to you! :)

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