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Concert Reviews:
Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy -- masters at work at Meadow Brook

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2016

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ROCHESTER HILLS -- Jeff Beck is in the midst of celebrating his 50th anniversary as a solo artist. Buddy Guy was celebrating his 80th birthday.

But both men played like they were half their ages -- or more -- on Saturday night, July 30, at the Meadow Brook Amphitheatre.

The two make perfect sense as a touring tandem -- both icons, both Rock and Roll Hall of Famers (twice for Beck), both multiple Grammy Award winners and both even favoring the same guitar, the Fender Stratocaster. They're as sharp and creative as they've ever been. They're also complementary -- Beck a technically precise and lyrical player, Guy more extemporaneous and playful.

Each remains a master of their own domain and fully relevant; Guy won a Grammy earlier this year for his 2015 album "Born To Play Guitar," while Beck has both a new album ("Loud Hailer") and a book ("BECK101") to promote. Together they offered a clinic that was greeted with genuine, appreciative gusto by an obviously music-loving crowd at Meadow Brook.

And there was a moment together, too, which hasn't happened at every show on the pair's summer tour. Five songs into Beck's set Guy strode onstage to sing and trade blues licks with the headliner, who had tweeted a birthday message, as well as a vintage photo of the two of them together, prior to the show.

Guy certainly didn't look or sound his age during his nearly 70 minutes on stage at Meadow Brook. He strode out in a white baseball cap and matching pants and silk shirt, executing a few playing tricks before leading his quintet into "Damn Right, I've Got the Blues." He treated the set as part show, part history lesson, lacing in homages to peers and mentors such as Willie Dixon ("I Just Want to Make Love to You"), Muddy Waters ("Hoochie Coochie Man"), and, via snippets within other songs, Jimi Hendrix, Motown legend Marvin Gaye and John Lee Hooker -- making sure to celebrate the latter's roots in Detroit.

There were plenty of happy birthday signs in the crowd, as well as a balloon delivered by one fan early in the set -- "Y'all don't know how you're making me feel. I love you. Now don't make me cry," Guy said -- and he got up close and personal during "Someone Else Is Steppin' In (Slippin' Out, Slippin' In") as he walked up the pavilion aisles all the way to the hill, playing solos singing some verses amidst a sea of cell phones capturing the journey, returning to the stage for a rendition of "Born To Play Guitar's" title track, during which he played his guitar with drum sticks and a towel as well as behind his back.

Guy threw down a real gauntlet for Beck, but the British virtuoso answered with an electrifying nearly 90 minutes, showcasing a new band during a wide-ranging and eclectic 19-song set. Saturday was primarily a showcase for Beck as tunesmith; there were plenty of six-string fireworks, of course, but mostly within the context of standard songs -- including five from "Loud Hailer" that were sung by album collaborator Rosie Bones.

The show also featured plenty of references to Beck's celebrated past, save for his Jeff Beck Group days of the late 60s. Assisted by singer-harmonica player Jimmy Hall, Beck -- sporting a sleeveless black vest, white neck scarf, shades and glittery white wristbands -- ripped through his R&B roots with renditions of Bonnie Dobson's "Morning Dew," Sam Cook's "A Change Is Gonna Come," Hambone Willie Newberry's "Rollin' and Tumblin'," Muddy Waters' "Little Brown Bird" and Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." His 70s fusion era took a ride with "Freeway Jam," Jan Hammer's "You Never Know" and the fiery, aggressive "Big Block." The "Loud Hailer" songs, meanwhile, boasted a contemporary and socially conscious edge, with "O.I.L. (Can't Get Enough of That Sticky)" offering a modernized take on James Brown-style funk.

Beck, who didn't speak a word all night, finished with his epic instrumental rendering of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life." And between him and Guy it was a night well-spent with two men who, like the proverbial wine, are improving with age.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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