Jeff Beck & Imelda May w/her band – April 8, 2011

How you describe perfection?

I have no idea, so I’m not really sure that anything I can write tonight can capture just how perfect the show was tonight.  Seriously, this was the sort of experience you always hope for when you buy a concert ticket.

I have an old story that I’ve told many times….basically, when I was a teen I heard the Rolling Stones were the “best” live act ever.  I disagreed with that premise simply based on the fact that I had already seen some amazing acts that I felt were better on a given night than the Stone could ever have been.  Besides, who can be that good night in and night out?  I decided that on a given night the “best” live band in the world could be in a bar in Iowa….the universe just lines up for them and every note falls into place.  So, (I decided) on any given night the “best” band in the world could be any band.  It’s a part of what keeps me going to shows.  The mystery, the chance that for a moment the band before me can be a greater sum than all it’s parts….that the clouds will part and I’ll hear angels singing in front of me.  I’ve seen it a few times, bands I love (Springsteen), bands I simply liked (Lynyrd Skynyrd  or Don Henley) who drew me in and then upped their game right before my eyes…and even bands that were a revelation who I really didn’t expect to be transcendent (Green Day a few years ago).

Tonight, angels sang and they played guitars at the Fox Theatre in Pomona.

The term “guitar god” gets tossed around pretty liberally, but if it applies to anyone…I’d cast a vote to for Mr. Beck to be included on the shortlist.  It wasn’t just that his playing was technically perfect, and that note-for-note covered the bases of the material he was playing.  But, it was in the way that he could wring emotion from the guitar within the context of the song, never over-stepping or falling into excess.  It’s a fine line I’ve seen many fall brutally across in an effort to impress with speed and/or prowess.  Instead, his playing simply served the song and showed the confidence in his skills that any need for flash was cast aside.  Whether on a Strat or a Gibson…strumming a hollow body or or playing bottleneck blues…he presented a master-class in early pop/rock guitar playing that was amazing see in person.

I had one sort of sad thought near the end of the show.  I doubt that I will ever be able to do any single thing in life anywhere near as well as he plays the guitar.

Of course, it took more than one player on stage to create such magic for me.  Imelda May  and her band were one for my very fun memories of both Glastonbury and Hop Farm.  Tonight they stepped up a level from “fun” to somewhere near “awesome”.  Darrel Higham (Imelda’s husband) provided confident rhythm support and lead vocals on songs like “Rockin is our Business” and “Hound Dog”.  Yes, the old Elvis chestnut that you’ve doubtless heard millions of times.

See, that’s one of the coolest things about the show.  Taking a bunch of old songs that you’ve heard bar bands butcher a dozen times and bring them back to life.  “Hound Dog”, “Rock Around The Clock”, “Train Kept a Rollin” and “Walking in the Sand” were firmly grasped and then pulled from the oldies bin…lovingly restored and played not as some museum time capsule, but as vibrant current rock and roll songs.  This wasn’t the fair circuit-oldies act recitation of “dusty old hits” that everyone knows.  This was a band of world class musicians paying tribute to the pioneers who had blazed the trail that so many (including the folks on stage) had followed.

The middle section of the show featured a tribute to Les Paul and Mary Ford.  With Imelda May pre-recording her vocals as Mary had years ago to accompany herself they ran through a classic series of hits from the 50’s.  “How High The Moon”, “Sitting on Top of the World”, “Bye Bye Blues”, “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise”, “Vaya Con Dios” and “Mockingbird Hill”…But, they saved the best for last with a thrilling version of “The Tiger Rag”.  No camp, no sly hipster winks…they had a real love of the songs that clearly came through each note.

Swapping the Les Paul Guitar for his more familiar Fender Strat and joined on stage by a horn section, they did a series of rock instrumentals.  “Peter Gunn”, “Apache” and a transcendent version of “Sleepwalk”, which was another of those very familiar songs that you’d have sworn you had no interest in hearing…until you actually heard them play it tonight.  They closed the set with a couple of movie songs: “The Girl Can’t Help It” and then “Rock Around the Clock”.

The encores were…A muscular version of the Shangri-La’s “Remember Walking in the Sand”, followed by “Hound Dog” with a slowed down vamp of an extra chorus and the Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s (and covered by Elvis) version of “Up Above My Head (I hear music in the air)”….Pop, rock, gospel and movie soundtracks….where do you go from there?

How about a ballad from 1910?  Unexpectedly (but in a way not really, seeing Imelda and her band are from Ireland)….they did one of the most moving versions of “Danny Boy” that I’ve ever heard.  Seriously…if I were Irish, I’d have been crying my eyes out…And, as it was I seem to have gotten a speck of dust in there somehow near the end of the song that made them water slightly anyway….wow…

As I said, hard to describe perfection….and I’m out of words to try tonight.

Here’s a taste:

 

An someone posted Danny Boy already on You Tube….gotta love this new technology…

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