There are good guitar players, there are great guitar players, and there is Jeff Beck. OK, one could argue that there have been other rock guitarists over the years who are in his league, but just a handful.
What's so special about Beck, you might ask? It's his expressiveness, his touch. He doesn't dazzle with a flurry of notes, but the notes that he plays are the real deal, a faithful reflection of the Platonic ideal of what rock guitar can and arguably should be.
Beck's guitar magic was on full display at the Chumash Casino Resort on Thursday night in a show that drew from his 50-year career in music.
The show kicked off with "The Revolution Will Be Televised," the lead track from his new album, Loud Hailer. For us non-Brits, a loud hailer is a megaphone, and fittingly the vocals on this song by Rosie Bones were done through a loud hailer as she made her way through the crowd to the stage. Other new songs with the energetic Bones on vocals included the funky "O.I.L.," during which Beck played a fun solo on a Bo Diddley-esque oil can guitar.
There were also some Beck instrumental classics, like "Freeway Jam" off his iconic 1975 album Blow By Blow, an influential milestone in jazz fusion. Later on, he played another song from that album, the achingly beautiful instrumental "Cause We've Ended as Lovers," at the end of which it almost felt like time stopped.
His 1968 solo debut album was well-represented by "Morning Dew" and "Shapes of Things" with guest vocals belted out by Jimmy Hall from Wet Willie, plus the stellar instrumental "Beck's Bolero" written by Beck's short-time Yardbirds bandmate Jimmy Page.
Hall also was on board for some choice covers, including Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" and, probably the show highlight, a rockin' take on Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." It's worth noting the history of the latter song. Beck was in the studio with Wonder when it was written, and reportedly the riff was inspired by a drum line that Beck was playing. The plan was for Beck to record and release the song first, but a delay meant that Wonder's version came out earlier and became a huge hit, which Chumash concert regulars also enjoyed a few weeks ago.
Other notable covers included the Mahavishnu Orchestra's "You Know, You Know," which had a super-cool bass solo by Rhonda Smith, and a heavenly show-closing instrumental cover of The Beatles' "A Day in the Life."
Beck is truly one of the all-time greatest rock guitarists, and his awe-inspiring show demonstrated that on songs both old and new he can still work his magic on the guitar.
The Revolution Will Be Televised
Lonnie on the Move (Lonnie Mack cover)
Live in the Dark
The Ballad of the Jersey Wives
You Know, You Know (Mahavishnu Orchestra cover)
Morning Dew (Bonnie Dobson cover)
A Change is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke cover)
Cause We've Ended as Lovers (Syreeta cover)
Scared for the Children
Shapes of Things
Rollin' and Tumblin' (Hambone Willie Newbern cover)
Superstition (Stevie Wonder cover)
Little Brown Bird (Muddy Waters cover)
A Day in the Life (The Beatles cover)
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.