It’s apt that during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations week that rock royalty should appear at the Royal Albert Hall, itself commemorating a century and a half, as Jeff Beck played a brace of shows at this landmark venue.
Jeff Beck – Royal Albert Hall – 31 May 2022
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Often cited as the guitarist’s guitarist, there’s absolutely no doubt that Beck’s mastery of his instrument has paved the way for so many who follow in his footsteps, his style and technique groundbreaking. With an evening that covered so many musical bases, let alone a certain special guest appearing, central to everything was the white Stratocaster of the maestro, his playing never less than stunning.
Joined on stage by bass player Rhonda Smith, drummer Anika Nilles, Robert Adam Stephenson on keys and cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, the guitarist strolled on, smiled and put on a pair of sunglasses, the epitome of cool. The modern rush of Star Cycle opened, Beck making his guitar sing as Smith and Nilles laid down the deep groove. The two got the chance for their own solo spots during the following You Know You Know, its juxtaposed structure of fragility and dynamics a heady mixture.
The spacious blues take of Billy Cobham’s Stratus was shot through with the slinky bass lines and some very jazzy notes, the freewheeling vibe of the original very much intact, and the plaintive but joyous Nadia sounded gorgeous, purple light flooding the stage. Rumble still sends seismic shocks, its earthy nostalgia a reminder of just how exciting and dangerous it sounded when Link Wray unleashed it on the world, Beck declaring, “It’s the best use of two chords”.
A marked change of pace with the beautiful and cello accompanied Midnight Walker, its delicate and plaintive sound filling the cavernous hall before the muscular Big Block brings a down and dirty heavy rock punch.
Whilst this all showed the versatility of not just Beck but also his instrument, it was the not entirely unexpected guest appearance of Johnny Depp that drew some of the biggest cheers of the night. Fresh from his recent court case, the Hollywood A-Lister seemingly wanted to shake off the past few weeks and get his headspace into a much more creative place, his guitar and music the perfect outlet.
This being his third time on the tour, there was a level of expectation that he would join the band, but both his introduction and performance was one of a downplayed and respectful reverence to his host, the focus remaining on Beck. Having worked before on their cover of John Lennon’s Isolation, played magnificently later as part of the set, the two had an easy chemistry, Depp stepping out of the spotlight but obviously relishing the experience. His own penned lament Heddy Lamar lyrically poignant and naked, the actor’s acoustic guitar adding another layer of colour to the sound, the following Brian Wilson cover Time as equally emotionally powerful.
Part of what makes Beck so good at his craft is the obvious love he has for music. This is shown in his interpretation of Time and the Marvin Gaye classic What’s Going On, his arrangement and playing both tasteful and subtly nuanced. Hendrix’s Little Wing is equally well done, the band and Depp adding some nice touches that are soulful but also swing.
Again, another change of gear with the coruscating modern edges of The Death And Resurrection Show, Killing Joke’s gritty modern electro anthem and Depp’s effects-laden vocals wonderfully at odds with the austere surroundings. Closing the main set with the ethereal Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers, its gossamer touch weaving a spell over the audience, the calm after the storm that came before and a gentle kiss goodnight.
Encoring with the spacious and unhurried Corpus Christi Carol, Beck was accompanied by just Freebairn-Smith and Stephenson, the sparseness letting every note resonate as it breathed.
The night concluded with a jaw-dropping A Day In The Life, the Beatles masterpiece a mini-opera as it swooped and soared, the kaleidoscopic blend of light and shade dancing in the ether. With a tease of Purple Haze briefly injected into its warp and weft, this was the final flourish of an extraordinary and sublime evening, the guitarist and his band, once and for all, showing the transformative power of music.
Tonight, nothing shone brighter than that.