Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Live Shots

APRIL 19, 1999: 

JEFF BECK

The Backyard, April 9

In addition to classic rockers, fusion freaks, and guitarheads, Jeff Beck's audience teemed with local music illuminati, such as Eric Johnson, David Grissom, and Terry Bozzio, skinbeater on Beck's Guitar Shop. When Beck's three touring musicians (bass, drums, rhythm guitar) unceremoniously opened with "What Mama Said," from the excellent, decade-anticipated, new Who Else?, the middle-aged crowd responded with expected applause -- applause that turned into a standing ovation when the British stringbox deus joined in after a few bars. If you couldn't see the 54-year-old, mop-haired string maniac, the Marshall-stack-emanated squawks, slides, and slurs made it loud and clear that Beck was in the house. "Psycho Sam" strengthened the momentum, segueing into a third new tune, the open jam "Brush With the Blues." You'd think the last thing Beck would need is another guitarist, but credit the former Yardbird for enlisting gifted Jennifer Batten to play rhythm, MIDI tones, and duo leads. Blues-rock-jazz-else instrumentals were sampled from his influential discography, including the high-voltage jamathon "Led Boots," opener on Wired and a perfect vehicle for Beck/Batten harmony licks. Changing to another signature Stradivarius Stratocaster, Beck jumped into the melancholic ballad, "Cause We Ended as Lovers" from 1975's Blow by Blow, and later, "Savoy," from 1989's aforementioned Guitar Shop. It was a treat to hear these masterworks live, but new tunes were equally potent. In "Declan," bassist Randy Hope-Taylor jumped on guitar, while Batton conjured synth sounds, and drummer Steve Alexander switched to keyboard to create the thick atmospheric backdrop for Beck's mournful Celtic musings. And new song cautiousness be damned -- Beck inserted Gershwin melodies into "Space for the Papa." Peaks and valleys usually accompany instrumental guitar, and this show was no exception. Yet high points outnumbered the low, such as Beck's lyrical interpretation of the Beatles classic, "A Day in the Life." In spite of the torturous Backyard cattle-seating, the show had a loose, summer party feel, and Beck soaked it up. Eschewing stage banter, the influential strummer let his guitar do the talking, except after two encores when he thanked the audience, saying, "It was a gas!" He then lamented that he couldn't take the Austin audience to California, where "they need a little lively-ing up." Besides a hometown London gig, where could Beck find a more appreciative and familiar crowd? Closing zany stage antics proved the veteran had a grand time, and why not? Beck came to play, and the audience to be dazzled, both left satisfied. -- David Lynch


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