Home Gigs Gig Review : JEFF BECK 2020 TOUR RESCHEDULED SYMPHONY HALL, BIRMINGHAM, 6TH JUNE 2022

Gig Review : JEFF BECK 2020 TOUR RESCHEDULED SYMPHONY HALL, BIRMINGHAM, 6TH JUNE 2022

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Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

The back stage entry was surrounded by a throng of adoring fans as I made my way to the box office. Word had leaked out that Jeff Becks tour had a very special guest, with tonight being the penultimate date on the tour its no secret that ‘Captain Jack Sparrow’, riding high on his recent victory on the high seas of a Virginia court room, has been doing a turn during the show. Having struck up a friendship a few years back, it’s well known that they have been working together, in fact a rework of John Lennon’s ‘Isolation’ had been released in 2020 as the time seemed fitting with everyone locked down due to the pandemic. The collaborative album is set for release in June of this year.

The Symphony Hall is an impressive venue, the set-up on the stage looked tiny in comparison to the ceiling height. A simple black back drop and the obligatory black drapes over the main turn’s kit meant the opening act were pushed to the stage front. This being bigger than a lot of stages I’ve been to recently.

At the stroke of 19:30 the lights dimmed and three guys sauntered onto the stage, took up their positions as Sharon Corr wafted effortlessly from stage right, dressed in black she made her way to the microphone a thundering drum beat struck up as we start the night off with a Corrs classic, ‘Radio’ from 1999. Delivering a sublimely smooth vocal she picks up the violin and proceeds to glide around the stage as she plays.

A quick visit to the microphone once more to finish the song and she’s off to the piano. Being a great multi-instrumentalist and the musical backbone to the family band, it’s evident that she’s happy with either singing or playing.

We sweep swiftly into the title track of her latest album ‘The Fool and The Scorpion’ again another rhythmical beat and hypnotic vocals fill the great Symphony hall, as the respectful crowd seemingly hang on every word. Still sat at the piano she mentions they had a great curry last night; the local news is full of the fact that Mr Depp treated the touring party to a slap-up feed in a local Indian restaurant. Rumour has it that it cost 5 figures, £50,000 being banded around wildly. A figure that I hope has been plucked out of the ether, although with the wild parking costs and the vehicle low emission tax for entering the city, it may not be too far off the truth.

She follows with a tribute to Steve Bronski who sadly passed away in an alleged house fire at the age of 61, back in December 2021. The familiar sound flows from the piano as Sharron plays the beginning of ‘Small-town Boy’ a favourite of many ‘Bronski Beat’ fans and familiar to those of us over a certain age. With a respectful guitar solo by Alfonso Samos Luna, a highlight of the song, and Sharon’s haunting vocal, fitting the song perfectly, the crowd cheer and applaud this fine tune.

Almost choking as she takes a drink, she tells us its lemon tea and not vodka although she wishes it was, they go into ‘Only You’, the last song on her new album. Again, the piano introduces the song as she ‘tickles the ivories’ a gentle nod brings the rest of the band in. Her voice is just ridiculously smooth and lamentable as she purrs through this gentle ballad with an ethereal ease.

With my attention slightly distracted by people returning to their seats, I miss what Sharon said next, I think she said the next one is the new single from album, any ways its ‘Under a Daylight Moon’ again seated at the piano her smooth delicate voice laments as she twists and turns her arms as a gesture to the soft words delivered, a gentle beat from the drums accompanies her. As she goes in to a round of La La Laa’s she strikes up the piano for this soft gentle fairy tale.

Mistaking the set lists she says she can’t read it as she’s not got her glasses, we get ‘My Beautiful’ again from ‘Fool’. Another song starting off on the piano as she delivers a beautifully controlled vocal. This restrained song shows her song writing abilities as the guitar caresses and the backbeat push this song along gently. This is followed up with what Sharon called her Hang over song. ‘Running on Rooftops’ which starts off with a thumping bassline, I think Mat Hector is giving the drums a bit extra as Sharon is running on rooftops. A slightly more upbeat tune with delicate layers soothes as this tune ends.

Sharon thanks everyone and says that we are in for a great night. “Jeff Beck is the greatest guitarist out there and a really nice guy”. “Johnny got the right result and is playing great on the tour”, At the mention of his name there is an ear-splitting scream from the nose bleeds. I guess we have some Johnny fans in who got the seats closer to god.

Walking to her Violin Sharon says “we need to do a quick tune; one cannot have an out of tune violin”.

To finish the night off we have the Ceoltóirí Chualann interpretation of ‘Mná na hÉireann’, or Women of Ireland, written by the Ulster Poet Paeder Ó Doirnín. Often seen as a rebel song as it tells of mother Ireland being abused by England and her wanting the Irish men to stand up to it all. Kate Bush covered it back in ’96 on her album Common Ground.

Starting off on the violin, its haunting sound pathing the way to this great tune, the rest of the band join in giving it a solid presence as Luna walks to the stage front and takes over from the violin with a warm fat solo on his Fender Telecaster. The song builds as Sharon and Luna duet, facing each other centre stage. With a controlled violin and fading bass this traditional Irish song is put to bed.

Sharron takes the time to introduce the band, “Alfonso Samos Luna on guitar”, “Alex Morell on bass guitar” and snazzy head gear, “and on the drums, suit wearing Mat Hector”. And then its goodbyes all round and as they exit the stage Sharon says “see you next time”.

It’s not often you get a support of that quality. A simply stunning set with a vocal delivery that’s second to none.

With the usual scurry of activity, the set is cleared for the main ‘turn’. Looking around the audience, it’s clear that we have a certain type of ‘fan’ in tonight. I am without brother Waldorf yet again so I sit quietly as I check through my notes. No pressure hey?

On time, the lights dim and the band walk on, followed by the man himself. The now trademark white Strat is hanging from his neck as he walks to the stage front and dons his aviators, posing briefly like Fonzie from happy days, he smiles at the cheers and walks back to his amp. With a nod to no one in particular he strikes up into the psychedelic fuzz box distorted riffs of ‘Star Cycle’ this 60’s inspired piece from the 80’s album ‘There and Back’. Full of swells and screams, the thundering back line deliver a hard-hitting support for Beck to acrobat around, with sounds copied by many, Including the likes of Satriani, the song delivers the sonic overload that the fans are wanting.

This flows into the Mahavishnu Orchestras ‘You Know You Know’ this appeared on 1985’s album ‘Flash’ but was originally penned by John McLaughlin back in 1971 (McLaughlin being given the moniker ‘Mahavishnu’ by his then spiritual guru ‘Sri Chinmoy’. Maha meaning great and Vishnu being the name of the Hindu deity). This fusion of rock and jazz inspired licks is full of some searing finger work, His guitar pointing skywards as he repeated teases the neck. A Slamming bassline see’s Rhonda Smith in sunglasses hits the stage front with a slammin’ display of bass slap and pop as she gives it the beans. Beck introduces us to German prodigy Anika Nilles on the drums as she gets to give the kit a workout, with sticks a blur, she crashes and thumps her way around the kit much to the crowd’s delight.

The Billy Cobham number ‘Stratus’ is up next, as was Cobham’s way it starts with a crushing drum riff as the scorching guitar winds up and rips in. This is a great tune from the 1973 album ‘Spectrum’ it featured the then little-known guitarist Tommy Bolin of Zephyr and the James Gang. Beck standing in front of the drums delivers scorching lick after scorching lick, as the rolling drumbeat crashes along, the bass providing its heartbeat as it powers along, the crescendo of a finish brings huge applause from the hall.

Saying “we got three chords in this song lookout” as Beck fires out the opening salvo of Dah Dah Dings, instantly recognisable as the music to the ‘Confused.com advert on TV, we get pushed back in our seats with the ferocity of Becks cover of Link Wray’s ‘Rumble’.

The simplest of three chords are delivered on a salvo of whammy bar and picked harmonics. As the guitar screams in a helium filled shrillness, he brings the song to an end and slides effortlessly into ‘Nadia’. This Nitin Sawhney piece is full of eastern flavoured jazz licks, punctuated with tremolo wobbles and volume swells as Beck gives it the full sonic attack and guitar improvised sitar sounds. ‘Midnight Walker’ with its high-pitched attack continues, as the band effortlessly, deliver a hard hitting backbeat as Beck’s sonic attack, slow and purposeful screams out full of menace, the answer and return with Vanessa Freebairn-Smith on the cello brings an Irish lilt that firmly grounds this haunting piece, as, with a subtle tremolo the song is brought to a controlled close.

The thudding bassline of ‘Hammerhead’ slams out as orange lights, Kris-Krossed, beam like lasers from the dark red backdrop. Beck goes into overload, as the drums crash around him, he drives his hot-rodded Strat hard as it screams and cries at his very touch. Looking towards Vanessa on the Cello he fires off a salvo of cosmic shrieks from his guitar before crossing to Rhonda on the bass. With fingers working overtime, he delivers yet another sonic barrage. With one arm in the air, seemingly cooling his fingers from their repetitive stroking of the embers in the fire that was his guitar, A crushing descending run up the neck marks the end of that little foray.

With a whisper from Bass player Rhonda, a position vacated by long time bassist Tal Wilkenfield, Beck gets the memo of what’s next, ‘Caroline, No’ the Brian Wilson cover, not that it matters. When you are gifted with a talent like him, he could play the phone book and keep you riveted to his every note. As green lights engulf the set the slow laid-back vibe is suddenly killed with a howling scream from Becks guitar, He has a demon trapped in there and with his skill he quickly quietens it down before it tries again as the song fades the crowd respond with more cheers and applause, Beck stands with arms outstretched in thanks to the kind response.

Da Da, Da Da throbbing bassline of ‘Big Block’ from Becks Guitar shop, follows on as Beck fires a steady round of staccato riffs over the top. The Cello sits comfortably as Beck motions to the side desk. With car horn sounds from his fingers he stands slightly stooped as he watches his fingers run amok over the frets on the guitar neck. The metronomic drum beat guiding the song along as it builds to a flurry of fast fingers, each perfectly spaced as he squeezes out notes not normally heard from a guitar. With a crescendo of cymbal and drum crashes from Anika the song finishes to tumultuous cheers from around the hall.

A guitar strikes up yet again, its sound full of tremolo driven highs and lows, as it does so Beck makes motions towards the band, a mic stand has magically appeared as ‘Jack Sparrow’ saunters onto the stage, dressed in a grey and white check jacket, acoustic guitar hanging as he slowly strums along. The hall has erupted in screams from the nosebleeds, the Johnny Depp fans are making sure he knows they’re in the house tonight.

They go into the co-written track ‘Heddy Lamar’. With his eyes hidden behind white framed aviators, Depp delivers a fine vocal despite the disruptions from above. Stroking his 12 string he sings into the mic, no doubt his eyes are darting around the room behind the glasses. Moving to the side he makes the floor Beck’s as, standing well back, he delivers the songs tasteful solo. With his hand now on the mic Depp finishes the lyric then moves to stand in front of Anika on the drums, her face lights up as no doubt he is pulling faces at her. Beck and the band bring the song down to a finish, Beck and Depp play hug before Depp removes his jacket and changes guitar.

Their single release of John Lennon’s ‘Isolation’ is up next. Depp has a telecaster hanging at his knees as this Pandemic release rocks out. Depp looks on as Beck flies around the neck of his guitar. Depp’s voice is deceptively good as the song continues the crowd cheer on from the nose bleeds, a cry of “I Love You” is heard right as the song ends.

The Dennis Wilson cover ‘Time’ is next. Depp, minus his glasses and with both hands on the microphone delivers a slow, deliberate lyric. A great test for his voice, which stands up to the challenge. Beck cuts in with a moaning guitar, full of restraint, it gives way to Depp once more, as, eyes closed, he continues to lament before the drums crash and the song lifts off, Depp, eventually, softly finishes the track and moves away from the mic and changes guitar yet again.

A fruity funky riff fires up as the band go into Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’. Depp has a burnt battered looking Strat in his hands now, it looks like it’s been made from the timbers of the Black Pearl such is its look, I think there are flames etched on it. Beck adds a delicious guitar to this number as Depp delivers the words to this great Marvin Gaye song.

A guitar-less Depp takes the mic for the next one. His face is beaming, he’s in his happy place, a huge weight having been lifted from his shoulders. He delivers the words to the Everley Brothers cover ‘Let It Be Me’. Standing back he gives Beck the floor once again as he delivers a sublime treat on the guitar. I’ve listened to a few YouTube videos of this song and they don’t do Depp the justice he deserves as he delivers this song with control and purpose. Moving out of the way yet again as Beck takes the stage with a solo that’s controlled but doesn’t take away from the songs message. With his hands behind his back, Depp finishes the song looking at the floor. The crowd love it as they cheer and scream. At times I’m not sure if it’s for the music or Jack Sparrow?

‘Little Wing’ follows but not before Depp raises his drink to the fans who scream back in reply. As he saunters up to the mic full of pirate swagger, his aura is overwhelming, I have to admit to having a fleeting bromance moment at seeing this Hollywood icon up close, the screams bring me around sharpish as I smirk at myself, tsk silly boy I muse out loud. With Blonde Strat hanging from his neck he delivers the lyric to this Hendrix classic, before swaggering around the stage as Beck delivers a stunning solo, each note crunchy in clarity as the song is brought to an end. They both change guitars for the final song in Depp’s set.

With such a great set it was always going to be hard to pick a favourite, and I’m sorry to all you die hard Beck fanatics out there but Killing Jokes ‘The Death and Resurrection Show’ takes top honours for me. With Depp’s voice full of mechanical distortion, a set of red and oranges and with strobes flashing non-stop and a menacing back line of industrial rock. Depp strikes his silver Duesenberg guitar as he delivers his vocal, Beck points to the sky as this song grinds into your very soul. Having photographed Killing Joke earlier this year, Depp is killing it, Becks little squeaks and pops in the background lift this tune from just another cover. Lights flash and strobe as this song builds, full of Becks tricks as Depp delivers the final lyric and walks to the side as Beck jams out to finish the song. Depp turns and walks off the stage.

A swift exit made; Beck is straight into the Syreeta cover ‘Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers’. The drums are hard hitting as Beck delivers pinched harmonic after volume swell after trem’ flutter. Rhonda Smith takes the floor with a great bass riff showing her worth, this has Beck smiling as he picks the song back up, strumming like a mad man his white Strat screaming for all its worth as his fingers, right down in the dirty end, scream out as he brings the set to a close with repeated delicious cries of attention, ending in a low growl which is taken over by applause and cheers from the crowd, smiling and a thank you, he and the band leave the stage.

With the usual cheers and cries of more from the hall, Beck returns to the stage. With the Cello and Robert Adam Stevenson on Keys, for accompaniment, he delivers a respectful rendition of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Corpus Christi Carol. Becks guitar pops around the melody as it drops into the last song of the night. An instrumental version of the Beatles, ‘A Day in The Life’. As the song is underway, Johnny Depp saunters back on stage Just as Beck is delivering the melody, the cello grinds away giving this Sgt Pepper’s classic the traditional Beatles sound.

It takes on a darker, rockier sound as the guitar howl is somewhat reminiscent of the 1972 track ‘Frankenstein’ by the Edgar Winter group. Becks flicked trem’ brings us back on track as this instrumental weaves through various styles without losing its way. The crowd clap and cheer through-out as the song finishes to some serious string damage.

The crowd are on their feet cheering as Beck and Depp hug centre stage, holding his hand

Beck acknowledges Depp. Waving Depp leaves the stage stopping briefly to shake hands with a lucky person on the front row. Beck takes the adulation before he too leaves the stage.

Tonight, has been a stunning night of guitar wizardry and musician ship. Beck has always had top class players on stage with him, and with tonight’s new line up he hasn’t made any exceptions. Despite be 77yrs of age, his agility with the guitar has been nothing short of mind blowing, Vai, Gilbert and Satriani all take their hat off to Beck, he is simply the best on the planet when it comes to experimental sonic acrobatics on the guitar, period! Tonight, we had a masterclass from the genius himself.

The band were, Rhonda Smith on bass guitar, Anika Nilles on drums, Vanessa Freebairn-Smith on cello and Robert Adam Stevenson on drums, Oh and special guest Mr Johnny Depp.

Despite what people have said about Jack Sparrow, I personally think the addition of Johnny Depp as special guest was a genius way of getting his work out to the masses. With a collaborative album out in June what better way to advertise it. A great night of live music once again. Put me down for the Beck, Depp tour of the new album, I’ll be there. Stunning!

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