There is no one in the world who plays rock guitar like Jeff Beck. You can whip off names that burn in the plectrum firmament -- folks like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Eddie Van Halen, whomever -- and they just can't duplicate the sheer inventiveness and speed with which Beck tosses off ideas and riffs.
Now, with that said and out of the way, it would be good to note that the six-string genius needs to shake hands more often with actual tunes instead of collecting riffs and binding them together into mini-suites masquerading as songs. Conciseness is a virtue that often takes a back seat to virtuosity in his case. Back in the day, when Beck was a member of the Yardbirds, he could insert little rhythm riffs and solos into a sub-three minute song ("I'm Not Talking" for example) and give it that little extra shot of adrenalin needed to put the tune over.
But it's been a long time since Beck was in a pop band like the Yardbirds. For many years now, Beck has been making a hybrid of jazz, metal, blues and funk, with electronica more recently added to the mix. That music was on display Thursday night, before a large and enthusiastic crowd.
The concert showcased Beck's at times mind-numbing grab-bag of techno-licks, which certainly didn't seem to bother the hordes of male guitarists and wannabes who crowded the area in front of the stage and drooled over every godlike pick, tap and slap.
Beck knows what he wants to do and has been doing it for decades. Fans got slices from the complete Beck catalog of instrumentals, dating from "Blow by Blow" to his newest release, "Who Else?"
The best tunes (not riffs, tunes) were the slow string-bending blues that served as a change of pace from the two quick burners off his new album that opened the show and his surprising take on the Beatles classic, "A Day in the Life." He also turned "Rollin' and Tumblin', " the old McKinley Morganfield standard, into a slide guitar showpiece with a central section more reminiscent of jazz/noise guitarist Sonny Sharrock than Muddy Waters. Beck also did a really well-received version of "Goin' Down."
For someone who has shunned the spotlight, the ever-youthful looking Beck seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself as he generously shared the spotlight with his four-piece band, particularly when trading licks with guitarist Jennifer Batten.
Opening act Jonny Lang is being bandied about as a young guitar king in the making, but technically speaking Lang still has a long way to go when compared to Beck or even Lang's own rhythm guitarist, Paul Diethelm. What he does have in abundance is raw talent and potential. His vocals are very strong for someone who has yet to reach his 19th birthday, and his guitar playing (with nods towards Buddy Guy and Albert Collins) is impressive for one so young, hinting at even more accomplishments down the line.
Especially notable were "Lie to Me" (which closed out his set) and a marvelous head cutting session with Diethelm that had both guitarists spiraling into rarefied air trying to outdo each other.
Ever-evolving guitarist with Johnny Long.
Thursday night at Six Flags Darien Lake.