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Concert Reviews:
Jeff Beck throws a party in Ann Arbor

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Friday, April 1, 2011

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ANN ARBOR -- Jeff Beck's not necessarily you think of as a party guy.

Since his tenure in the Yardbirds, after all, he's held the mantle of one of rock 'n' roll's Mount Rushmore guitar heroes. He was a hard rock pioneer. He played jazz fusion in the 70s. He won a Grammy Award this year for his recording of "Nessun Dorma," a piece from a Puccini opera. This is serious stuff.

But Beck takes a different tact with his Rock 'n' Roll Party tour, which rolled into Ann Arbor on Thursday night (March 31) at a sold-out Michigan Theater. The 26-song, 95-minute show was indeed a celebration of what got Beck into music in the first place -- early rock hits by Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Bill Haley and others, songs by his hero, Les Paul, and his wife Mary Ford, and some instrumentals that gave Beck and his band room to show off their killer chops.

So rather than the master technician, the Ann Arbor crowd got Beck on a sort of busman's holiday, tapping into his roots with youthful glee but also the same ferocious, virtuoistic spirit he brings to his other performances. There might have been a moment to question if you really came to see Jeff Beck play "Rock Around the Clock" or "Hound Dog," but it was fleeting as Beck tore up whatever he touched.

Beck wasn't the only star attraction of the party, either. For this particular show he was joined by the sublime Imelda May -- and her form-fitting dresses -- who took on versions of Julie London's "Cry Me a River," "Please Mr. Jailer" and a selection of Paul-Ford favorites, including "How High the Moon," "Sitting on Top of the World," "Tiger Rag," "Bye Bye Blues," "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise" and "Vaya Con Dios." British singer and guitarist Darrel Higham, meanwhile, channeled rockabilly spirit more effectively than most Las Vegas Elvis impersonators, belting out "Baby Let's Play House," Vincent's "Double Talking Baby" and "Cruising," Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It" and the Tiny Bradshaw's Yardbirds-popularized "Train Kept A-Rollin'."

But Beck, of course, was the top Party dog, igniting nearly every song with his nimble, fluid solos. Among the many highlights were his duel with saxophonist Leo Green on the Treniers' "Rocking is Our Business" and his renditions of the instrumentals "Peter Gunn," Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk" and the Shadows' "Apache," the latter of which he introduced as the song he performed "the first time I had the (guts) to play in front of people" in 1960. He opened the May-sung version of the Shangri-Las "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" with a blistering, extended introduction and gave the show-closing "Danny Boy" a hymn-like feel with his ambient slide textures.

It all made for quite a party, and another memorable -- if different -- addition to Beck's broad range of musical accomplishments, ranking right up there with the opera, jazz and hard rock that populate his canon.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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