25 May, 2009

Great Gigs III: Jeff Beck At the Palais; January 2009; Finally He Gets To The Actual Concert

It was Australia Day and I'd spent the warm summer afternoon with the bands at the nearby Big Day Out concert providing a droning sonic backdrop to a bit of incompetent gardening. I headed over to Pete's place in West Brunswick but I was a little late so we had to sneak a hurried choof at the tram stop in Dawson St on the way in to the Palais for the Jeff Beck concert. You can do it in public if you're smart about it. We'd rolled the tobacco out of a couple of Stuyvos and packed in a fairly potent mix so that to the casual observer, it's just two baby-boomers smoking cigarettes.

I love the Palais. I saw Joe Cocker there in 1977 and Rory Gallagher in 1980 and both times the sound was excellent. It's a great acoustic venue, so I was looking forward to getting the best of Jeff and his band. They would be Tal Wilkenfeld, a 22-yo Sydney bass player about whom it's often mistakenly asumed that she's Beck's daughter. Her resume includes the Allman Brothers Band, Chick Corea, Steve Vai, Susan Tedeschi and Herbie Hancock. Vinnie Colaiuta, ex-Frank Zappa band, would be on drums and David Sancious from the E Street Band was to be on keyboards. No singer.

And that's what made me a little apprehensive. As I mentioned earlier, the stuff I was most looking forward to hearing him play was from his Yardbirds'; Jeff Beck Group; and Flash periods. If he was just going to do what he's into right now, that could be anything. And that's exactly what he indicated to Kerry O'Brien in this interview on the 7:30 Report.

So the concert would only be a limited retrospective of Beck' career. Nothing with vocals. This was disappointing. I like Beck's jazz-rock stuff, but I don't love it. Still it would be good to see him, even if he wasn't playing any of my faves. As an artist who has always prided himself on progressing, his playing was bound to be top class.

With sniffer dog resources otherwise occupied at the Big Day Out (thanks for taking the heat off us, youngsters!), Pete and I were free to have another quick choof outside just before Jeff was due to take to the stage. We stood apart from a relaxed crowd that were mostly male and from our age bracket but there were some refreshingly young and decidedly female concert-goers scattered through the ranks as well.

He opened with Beck's Bolero and all apprehension just melted away. He sounded sensational, as completely in control as any player I've ever heard. He used that big thumb of his (having eschewed picks since 1980) on a white strat and worked the wang bar and volume control on just about every note. He was faithful to the original, but showed how far he'd come since the original recording in 1968 by varying it just a little too. By the time he'd finished that opening number, my misgivings had shifted to whether we as an audience would be good enough to do him justice.

Have a look at this clip to get an idea of just how beautiful his playing of this signature tune was:

And I realized he really didn't need to trawl through his history to produce a completely satisfying performance. As the review in Undercover would very aptly summarize, it was "Jeff Beck displaying his craft, not his catalogue" And display it he did.

From Beck's Bolero he took us through all of his best instrumental work, from the 1975 Blow By Blow album to more recent efforts. And he was magnificent on all of them. From the haunting Cause We've Ended As Lovers all the way to his take on the Beatles' A Day In The Life for his second encore.

He seemed to be having a great time too. When someone called out "Go Jeffrey!" during a beautifully rendered piece of delicate slide guitar high up on the neck, he looked up in theatrically affected outrage.

He'd said not a word till right at the end when he introduced the band. They'd proved themselves terrific musos, a really hot outfit, and drew sincere applause from the crowd. And then when it was all finally over, a simple "Thank you. Bless your hearts."

No, bless you Jeff. I felt like I’d been privileged to have been there. Readers, this series isn’t called Great Gigs for nothing.

You can check out other peoples' take on the tour here, here, here and here.

But it didn't end there for me. His new live album, Performing This Week...Live At Ronnie Scott's is a complete record of the concert, right down to the same songs in the same order. I bought it almost straight away and it’s been on high rotation in the car ever since.

16 May, 2009

Great Gigs III: Jeff Beck at the Palais 2009; Backstory

A bloke at work forwarded an email from Ticketek to me last December. Jeff Beck would be touring Australia. The 26th January Melbourne concert, and the second concert added a short time after, would both be at the Palais in St Kilda. I snapped up two tickets at around $100 each and fired off an email to Pete, a bloke I play cricket with, choof with, and have the occasional jam with. Not surprisingly, he was up for it.

Alright, I was keen, but I had to do some investigating too. I was desperate to find out just which Jeff Beck would be touring Australia. You see, he's been through some changes in a career that began when he replaced Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds in 1965.
Beck was a major influence on guitar playing through his early pyrotechnic style. Controlled feedback, string muting, manipulating guitar volume, aggressive slide guitar, extraordinary use of the wang bar, and all those waow and whoo punctuations that later players like Jimi Hendrix and Joe Walsh would also use to great effect. And melodic. Beautifully so.

You can hear him at his best on a 1966 album called Roger the Engineer, which features some great guitar tracks like Over Under Sideways Down, The Nazz Are Blue and the instrumental Jeff's Boogie.

But just after this album Beck suffered burnout from the conditions on a hastily arranged and gruelling 1966 US tour and was dismissed from the Yardbirds after leaving the party to go to California. By this time Jimmy Page was alongside him on guitar and a few gigs and three songs that were recorded during their short-lived pairing were only promising, rather than what they might have been.

Beck's career has probably suffered by comparison with Clapton and Page. He has certainly not produced the great songs of his fellow Yardbirds guitarists. But his playing has been on an upward curve throughout. Clapton is now as good as ever but he's only got back to his best in relatively recent years after a long period as a pale shadow of the player he was with Cream. Page too, has had ups and downs but appears to be almost where he was with Led Zeppelin in the mid-70s, no mean feat.

Post-Yardbirds, Beck teamed up with producer Mickie Most for a series of largely forgettable singles, the exception being a dynamite instrumental called Beck's Bolero featuring Jimmy Page, Nicky Hopkins, John-Paul Jones and Keith Moon. Hopkins would join him for his next two solo albums, the 1968 Truth and Beck-Ola (1969). Also on board would be Rod Stewart on vocals, Ron Wood on bass and Micky Waller on drums.

The lineup gelled beautifully on Truth and the newly re-mastered CD release showcases Beck's talent and growth. There is sensationally innovative playing across a range of styles, mostly blues-rock, on such songs as Shapes of Things, Let Me Love You, I Aint Superstitious and the acoustic Greensleeves. However, Beck-Ola was something of a disappointment, precipitating the departure of Stewart and Wood, off to join the Faces. This downturn would carry through into subsequent Jeff Beck Group lineups over the next three years and also the one album produced by his teaming up with Vanilla Fudge departees Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice in 1973's short-lived power-trio Beck, Bogert and Appice.

Along with Eric Clapton, Harvey Mandel, Wayne Perkins and Ron Wood, he was in the running to replace Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones but didn't fancy spending half his life waiting for Mick Jagger and Keith Richard to turn up and so concentrated on a solo project to be produced by Beatles' recording overseer, George Martin. When Blow By Blow was released in 1975, Beck had heralded the arrival of jazz-rock. His haunting instrumental cover of the Beatles' She's A Woman, replete with talk-box, even got airplay on Top 40 radio, and the album's evocative ambience made it a surprise hit, and not just with guitar enthusiasts.

Beck would team up with keyboard player Jan Hammer to further explore the potential of jazz-rock and fusion for the next few albums and almost incessant touring. But it was just like old times in 1984 when Beck played on and appeared in the video for the Rod Stewart single Infatuation.

This might have convinced him he could tolerate having a vocalist in the band again because his 1985 release, Flash, saw him once more showing that he is a master of a range of styles. Closing off a five-year period without an album release, this unashamed rock album demonstrated Beck's playing was still cutting edge, easily matching the innovative quality of such latter-day luminaries as Eddie Van Halen and Michael Schenker.

This was Beck at his very best: beautiful, soulful blues on the hit single People Get Ready, with Rod Stewart on vocals; and a powerfully modern rock approach infusing songs like Ambitious and It Gets Us All In The End. Beck was back. And the homecoming was spectacular, but ultimately short-lived.

Make sure you watch this clip. It's sensational. Funny too.

There would be no follow up to Flash as Beck experimented with industrial music and returned to jazz-rock and fusion over the next few years. And that's why I was apprehensive about the concert: my favourite Jeff Beck stuff was from the Yardbirds; the first Jeff Beck Group; and Flash.

So, would he be playing a complete career retrospective, or just what he's up to right now, another of his many progressions?

03 May, 2009

You Can Run But You Can't Hide III

Interested readers might need to refer to the two previous posts on this matter just to refresh the memory.

The union rep at work is one of those people you just instantly warm to. For me, it was because she reminded me in looks and manner of a former colleague I liked a lot. But beyond that, she's a voluble, witty and clearly caring person who is passionate about what she believes in without beating anyone over the head with it or taking herself too seriously. I needed advice about what to do after the incident with Michelle so we went into one of the interview rooms and I went through it all with her.

She was sympathetic, but rational at the same time. She warned me against catastrophizing. I could see her point, but I felt like I'd stumbled onto something considerably ugly about my workplace to which there didn't appear to be an easy remedy. We consulted the staff handbook and it didn't have much to offer so she advised me to take it to my manager and see what could be done via the organization's structure.

When I told my boss about the incident she was typically forthright: "Why didn't you just tell her to get fucked? I would have." I had to laugh at that but pointed out that it might then have degenerated into an ugly scene for which I would have had to shoulder some of the blame. She told me we'd need to consult the CEO, who I have every confidence in. He's a bloke who knows all of the legislation and regulations back to front and is pretty good at explaining it all.

He gave me two options: one, to approach Michelle and try to sort it out myself; or two, to make a formal complaint, which would mean an investigation. I chose the latter because I didn't want to run the risk of making a mess of any approach to Michelle.

Unforunately the investigation was unable to verify my claim. Colin had taken the safe option of not remembering and Michelle denied that there'd been anything untoward, adding that she was prepared to apologise if she'd said anything offensive. Qualified apologies aren't worth a pinch of shit but the manager in charge of the investigation had organized mediation if I was interested. I wasn't.

Both the CEO and the manager confided that Michelle had come under notice for similar incidents but no-one had put in a formal complaint. They both indicated that they believed my version and were sorry that it had happened and also apologised that the investigation had been inconclusive.

I rejected mediation because I wasn't prepared to give Michelle any opportunities to save face or manipulate the situation any further. What if she was to say something that pissed me off during the session and I reacted, or worse, overreacted? Then I'd come out of it looking like a ratbag. So I politely declined, but added that if Michelle could be quietly advised to give me as wide a berth as possible from here on, I'd consider that a good outcome.

So that's where it stands. Her husband Jeremy and I get along just fine, Colin too. I don't have any ill-feelings towards them. They were both stuck in the middle.

Michelle's still on Family Leave but will be returning. When she does, I intend to avoid her like the plague. I hope she's got the good sense to do likewise. That might just make the situation manageable.