It’s the debate that continually rages. Who’s the best guitarist that rock has ever produced? Page? Clapton? Beck? Or, others of a more vintage pedigree? It’s a relative assessment of course and given the prowess each of these individuals possess, a moot point as well. However, any evidence offered by any of the players in question is bound to provide circumstantial evidence, and so it goes with Jeff Beck’s latest opus Performing This Week… Live at Ronnie Scott’s. Coming on the heels of another live offering Live +, it helps make the case that while Beck’s studio excursions have always effectively demonstrated that he’s one of the greatest players of all time, he’s clearly capable of driving that point home when he does so in live performance.
Recorded at the famed London jazz club of the same name, this sensational double disc set recasts many — though not all — of the individual highlights of Beck’s nearly fifty year career. Memorable versions of his signature song “Beck’s Bolero” and other classics like “People Get Ready” (with vocals by Joss Stone), “Matchbox”, and “Train Kept a Rollin’,” (the latter two as bonus numbers performed with the Big Town Playboys) find an easy fit alongside offerings of a more fusion-esque variety, the sound and style that have dominated his repertoire since the early ‘70s while pursuing the second incarnation of the Jeff Beck Group. Still, there are echoes of various other styles filtered into the mix: hints of reggae (“Behind the Wall”), jazz and blues (“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/Brush With the Blues”) and a rock steady sound that made Beck’s stints with the Yardbirds and the Jeff Beck Group so memorable and remarkable. Even Clapton gives a nod to his former Yardbirds alum, sharing the honors on the Willie Dixon standard “You Need Love”.
In his liner notes, Charles Shaar Murray states, “The key to understanding Jeff Beck and his music is: his sheer rang. The range of moods and emotions represented in his work, from Fearsome brutality and sheer snarling violence to utter lyricism and tender vulnerability via sardonic humor, limitless curiosity and a born trickster’s pleasure in continually surprising himself and others…” Yet that may be an overly academic explanation, because clearly, Beck and his band — drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, keyboardist Jason Rebello and bassist Tal Wikenfeld — render any need for elaboration or explanation moot.
Here again, Beck manages to prove the point that while instrumentals are his forte, the range of moods, feelings and emotion expressed herein negate the fact that for most of this double disc, there are no vocalists included. And yet, when he bends those notes with presence and finesse, songs like the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” and Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” take on an exquisite lyricism that effectively re-imagines the delivery of thosee duly inscribed originals.
For all his successful studio work, it can easily be argued that Performing This Week may be Beck’s most impressive effort yet, an extraordinary display of taste and technique that rivals any outlay by any other master musician. Or, to put it succinctly, Beck’s brilliance has never been more apparent. Considering the entire scope of his career, that’s all that need be said.