Judge Victor Valdivia hosts a rock 'n' roll party honoring a musical pioneer: the guy who sang "Mambo No. 5."
It's the best party in town!
The good news is that Jeff Beck has released a concert DVD. The bad news is that it's one of his least interesting concerts to watch. It's not that the music isn't good, or that the performances aren't competent. It's that the show itself is rather pointless, an enjoyable jam for Beck, his musicians, and the star-studded audience (including such luminaries as David Bowie, Meat Loaf, Miami Steve Van Zandt, and Metallica's Kirk Hammett), but not that fascinating if you weren't actually there. A fun time may have been had by all, but that fun doesn't translate all that well to DVD.
Rock 'n' Roll Party Honoring Les Paul was recorded June 9, 2010, at the Iridium Jazz Club in NYC. Beck is joined by singer Imelda May, singer/guitarist Darrel Higham, and special guests Brian Setzer, Gary "U.S." Bonds, and Trombone Shorty. Here is the set list:
• "Baby Let's Play House"
These are all, of course, classic songs, some of which were performed by legendary guitarist and inventor Les Paul with his wife, singer Mary Ford. Beck's guitar work is never less than impressive, Imelda May is a good singer, the backing band is solid, Darrell Higham is a skilled rockabilly revivalist, and the special guests all do their parts with relish. In other words, these are note-perfect recreations of these songs, which is probably a lot of fun to watch if you're at the concert. As a concert DVD recording, however, it's all rather pointless, since these versions add nothing to the originals. When you hear this band take on "Peter Gunn," for instance, it doesn't make you want to hear this version of "Peter Gunn" again—it makes you want to dig out the original version of "Peter Gunn" and play that instead. It's that kind of concert.
Moreover, of all the musical styles that Beck has flirted with over the years, rockabilly is the one that least shows off his talents to advantage. Beck has always been the guitar-god equivalent of Bob Dylan in that he has never really stuck to one consistent genre of music. While Eric Clapton essentially became softer and more ballad-oriented as he aged (and consequently became a bigger star) and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page defined a unique sound and more or less honed it over his career, Beck jumped all over the place stylistically, exploring different styles and genres sometimes from album to album. It's the main reason he never became a household name the way Clapton and Page did—there really isn't one definitive Jeff Beck album that displays all sides of his music. From the protean blues-metal of Truth (1968) and Beck-Ola (1969) to the instrumental jazz fusion of Blow By Blow (1975) and Wired (1976) to the electronic dance funk of Flash (1985) and Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop (1989), Beck has always been more interested in following his muse than making albums for easy categorization. What these albums all have in common, however, is that they all give Beck plenty of opportunities to show off his formidable playing. Here, he's hamstrung by the short tunes and simplistic arrangements. He gets off some fiery guitar leads on "Train Kept A Rollin'" and "Poor Boy" but for the most part, he's reduced to simply strumming along on rhythm guitar. This is frustrating but not all that surprising, since Beck's previous attempt at rockabilly, the 1993 album Crazy Legs, was easily one of his most forgettable works for precisely this reason.
If the concert is a disappointment, at least Eagle Rock has put together a surprisingly solid DVD for it. The anamorphic transfer is sharp and captures the concert perfectly. The 5.1 surround mixes are both equally clear and well-balanced, though not as loud as you might expect. The real meat, though, are the extras. There's an "Interview with Jeff Beck" (26:33) that does have some great stories, although the interviewer is so slick and chirpy that the interview ends up looking like something from Access Hollywood (that's not a compliment, by the way). There's a brief "Behind the Scenes" (18:19) featurette that examines how the concert was put together and recorded, as well as "At Home with Jeff Beck and His Guitars" (14:33), another featurette in which Beck discusses his favorite guitars. The real treat, however, is the footage taken from the late night concert series Rock 'n' Roll Tonite. Shot in 1983, it captures Beck and Les Paul himself joining guitarist Billy Squier ("The Stroke") for two extended jams: "Blues Jam" and "Back at the Chicken Shack." These are far superior to anything you'll see in the main concert, both as showcases for Beck's guitar playing and as tributes to Paul. Also included is a solo excerpt from this concert, "Les Paul and His Little Black Box," in which Paul shows off a recording device that allows him to play multiple guitar parts simultaneously.
Rock 'n' Roll Party is not a DVD that even hardcore Jeff Beck fans will be enraptured by. The songs are so basic and the arrangements so slavishly recreate the original recordings that you won't get any sense of Beck's talents as a composer, improviser, or interpreter of other writers' music. For that, you'd do better to track down music from Truth, Blow By Blow, and Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop, three albums so radically different from one another that it's necessary to hear songs from each one to get a true appreciation for the breadth of Beck's talent. This DVD, for all the hype, doesn't even come close to representing that.
Guilty of not showing off Jeff Beck's extraordinary talents.
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