MUSIC: First Beck the best Beck

The modern generation gap can be defined by the “Beck Demarcation.” Which side are you on?

Do you say: “I knew Jeff Beck, and sonny boy, Beck is no Jeff Beck.”

Or do you say: “Who the hell is Jeff Beck?”

For those who don’t know, Jeff Beck is one hell of a guitar player. He is a guitar hero. He sits at the right hand of God, as in Eric Clapton. Hell, he’s better than Eric Clapton, and therefore more popular than Jesus.

Beck’s – as in Jeff Beck’s – sold-out show at the Winspear Centre on Tuesday night, like all such events, will be packed with hells of guitarists or at least guitarists who would one day like to join the ranks of the real guitar heroes. They come to worship, to bask in the radiant glow of pure musicianship that Beck is expected to bring. High expectations here. This is a musicians’ concert. Non musicians will not be admitted.

The secret is not in how many notes you can play, though Beck – Jeff Beck, that is – can play very many of them in a row very fast, and so it is tempting to lump him in with wankers like Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. Don’t make that mistake. Jeff Beck, like, say, Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday, is a gifted interpreter of songs, a solo stylist who operates at a much higher level than your garden variety rock guitarist who plays like he’s getting paid a nickel a note. Jeff Beck can speak from his heart through his guitar, drawing out lyrical, soulful phrases that haunt the listener, take one on a journey far beyond the performance. His take on Little Wing is better than Jimi Hendrix’s. Yes, we said it. He owns Stevie Wonder’s ‘Cause We Ended as Lovers. Stevie basically gave it to him, anyway. In concert now, Jeff even covers Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance – and makes it sublime, according to a recent gushing concert review in The Record that compares his playing to Picasso using his paint brush.

Jesus, now there’s a guitar God.

Thus established, let’s go to the resume. One of three guitar Gods to have played in the Yardbirds (and there’s that Charlie Parker connection again), Beck has been operating more or less non-stop since the ‘60s. He’s worked with everybody – or at least everybody who means anything to the people on the high side of the Beck Generational Demarcation. Bowie, Jagger, Roger Waters, Keith Moon, Jimmy Page, we could sit here and rattle off the names of British Boomer rock stars for hours, Sting, Bob Geldolf, Guns N’ Roses, Kelly Clarkson … and what?! Must’ve dozed off there a couple of decades. Not Jeff Beck. Yes, he worked with G N’ R and Kelly Clarkson. He also worked with Herbie Hancock and India.Arie. Like Carlos Santana, another hell of a guitarist who speaks from the heart through his guitar, Jeff Beck will work with anybody. As long as they’re good. Hey, a gig’s a gig. Jeff Beck never drew many lines around his music, nor gave it many labels, is always dipping into new things, like electronica, and has kept up an impressive recording output. Small wonder the guy basically walks away with the rock instrumental Grammy every year. It’s six and counting.

All that’s left now is a duet with Beck – the “other Beck.”