By Jane Smith
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
March 27, 2001
What happens to rock legends when their days of playing to gigantic stadium crowds have passed them by?
Sunday evening at Washington DC’s Nightclub 9:30 answered this question as Jeff Beck and band members proved their resilient vigor and mastery of rock. The concert marked the 24th performance of his 2001 You Had It Coming tour and demonstrated Beck’s dexterity in responding to changing times and styles.
Psychedelic lights, trippy images and blaring acoustics recalled the ’60s while simultaneously pleasing crowd members too young to have witnessed this mind-expanding era. Beck’s sophisticated appearance in a sleek, all-black ensemble contrasted both with this spaced-out stage and his aging fans.
“I love Jeff Beck,” said Neil Fennekohl, a student at Essex Community College, and a Beck fan for more than four years. “I found an old record of my dad’s and I thought it was great.”
Die-hard fans stood mesmerized by their aged idol, appearing somewhat reminiscent of youthful years and by-gone times. A majority of the crowd was white, middle-aged and male, out to spend a few bucks to see a guitar god. Some enthusiasts brought their wives and children to the priceless performance.
Manipulating the strings of his electric, ivory-yellow Fender, Beck captivated the audience with diversified melodies derived from a variety of musical styles. The set list drew mainly from his 2000 album “You Had It Coming,” with songs like “Earthquake” and “Dirty Panting.” Jennifer Batton, back-up guitarist, furnished the evening’s only vocals during the song “Rolling & Tumbling.”
“He uses a lot more complex background music when he is soloing over stuff,” Fennekohl said. “I like how he can even mix in styles of different music, especially today’s music. He pushes himself to the limits.”
The limits for Jeff Beck included techniques derived from techno and funk with slight undertones of electronica. Jazzy blue rhythms and chords also littered his musical repertoire, a style lingering from his earlier days when performing with such artists as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
“I was raised on a lot of classic rock. I’ve seen The Who, the Dead, Page and (Robert) Plant,” said Gabe Shalom, a University of Maryland student. “What I’ve heard of Jeff Beck I like. I’ve heard from a friend of my father’s, who’s standing right next to me, that Jeff Beck has partially covered electronic. I’m into electronic music a lot. I am just excited to see the guy play.”
The generation gap between members of the audience wove itself shut during Sunday night’s performance due to Beck’s expertise at intermingled styles and melodies. Even his switch-off between gut-throbbing jams and ear-soothing numbers added to the overall satisfaction of the crowd. When the band covered The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life,” Beck appeared to possess complete insight into the fan’s cravings.
Unfortunately, the crowd experienced little of the 57-year-old’s charmed British voice. Throughout the show, he spoke all of three times, and then he only thanked fans for their faithful support over the last three decades. This, along with a daring toss of his guitar to a stage-crew member and a theatrical, curtain-call farewell, marked the end of the dynamic performance.
Willy Porter, a spirited guitarist out of Wisconsin, modestly opened for Jeff Beck, astonishing concertgoers with his wit and skill. Unlike Beck, Porter interacted whole-heartedly with the crowd, bringing tears of laughter with audience-queued, improvised lyrics. Porter’s agile spontaneity coalesced when he proved capable of ingeniously incorporating a request for the word “pap smear” into a song.
Regardless of musical era or style, the crowd reveled at the close of Sunday night’s show. Possibly the only complaint from the spectators’ lips was the wish for a larger venue.