They've been called the Holy Trinity of British rock guitarists.
Eric Clapton. Jimmy Page. Jeff Beck.
No three guitarists have been more influential. Between their efforts, the entire blueprint for post-Beatles rock music was conjured.
Clapton brought high volume to the electric blues he so loved, and with Cream, carved the template for the power-trio sound and lengthy improvisation. Page brought a seriously advanced compositional acumen to the heavy rock power of Led Zeppelin, became a wizard of the recording studio, and proved himself to be the most gloriously idiosyncratic guitarist extant throughout the 1970s.
And then there's Beck.
Though Clapton and Page were friends of his, and all three served as members of garage-blues legends the Yardbirds at various points, Beck always seemed to stand apart from his Holy Trinity peers. While Clapton wrapped himself in the warm woolen cloak of the blues, and Page created the most powerful rock ensemble of the age, Beck moved rather quickly from heavy blues-based rock into progressive, jazz fusion-informed styles, as if his own creative wanderlust was much more important to him than any aspirations to arena-rock glory. He never really seemed to be longing for the spotlight, often appearing indifferent to anything other than the music itself, and old hot rods he obsessively collected and restored when he wasn't on the road.
Not seeming to care too much made Beck the anti-hero du jour for discerning fans, many of whom would end up guitar players themselves by the end of the 1970s. Of course, this was based on more than mere posturing. Beck played like no one else, his guitar tone, phrasing and technical supremacy combining in service of an instantly recognizable sound. You could hear Beck play two notes, and know immediately that it was him.
From the time he left the Yardbirds until the 1980 release of "There and Back," Beck made not a single misstep. Whether ripping it up in beautiful bombast with the Jeff Beck Group and Beck Bogert & Appice, or delving deeper and deeper into a funk-blues-jazz hybrid on albums like "Wired" and "Blow By Blow," Beck's music smacked of a compromise-free integrity. He also simply refused to "overplay," consistently leaving abundant spaces in his music. It was as if Beck was so damn good, he didn't need to prove it to you at every moment. (This lesson in uber-hip restraint was clearly lost on most of the generation of "metal" players who would claim Beck as a major influence throughout the '80s, with the exception of the always lyrical Michael Schenker and the endlessly inventive Eddie Van Halen, both big-time Beck acolytes.)
Beck seemed to drift out of the picture while all of this "shredding" was going on, but ever since the release of "Guitar Shop" in 1989, the man has been riding the wave of a serious late-career renaissance. Last year, for example, his excellent "Emotion & Commotion" album earned five Grammy nominations, and took home two trophies. Beck had already moved on by that point, planning the release of a tribute to friend and mentor Les Paul, with the help of now-frequent collaborator, vocalist Imelda May.
Beck recently wrapped a tour with May and his Les Paul/early rock 'n' roll-themed band. When he arrives for a sold out performance inside UB's Center for the Arts at 8 tonight, he will be back with his regular touring band -- keyboard player Jason Rebello, bassist/singer Rhonda Smith and drummer Narada Michael Walden -- and concentrating on the lean and mean instrumental fare beloved by so many of his fans.
The prospect of seeing the iconic guitarist and two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee -- Beck is in the Hall as both a member of the Yardbirds and as a solo artist -- in such an intimate and acoustically pristine setting caused a minor freak-out among the area's Beck cognoscente. Tickets evaporated all but immediately.
The good news in all of this? Well, unless you didn't grab a ticket in time, it's all good news. But most significant is the fact that, when Beck performs this evening, he won't be doing so as a nostalgia act -- he'll be appearing as an artist at the very top of his creative game.
Five Beck albums you shouldn't be without
"Truth" (Epic/Legacy, 1968) Beck, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Micky Waller, and guests including Keith Moon, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. It still sounds like Sam Cooke fronting a hard rock band. Essential.
"Wired" (Epic/Legacy, 1976) Beck teams with Beatles producer George Martin for the funkiest fusion album of the 70s.
"Jeff" (Epic, 2003) An overlooked gem from Beck's incredibly solid engagement with techno. The playing is sublime.
"Emotion & Commotion" (Rhino, 2010) In case anyone suspected Beck might be losing some of his fire, this album proved otherwise.
"Jeff Beck & the Yardbirds: The Yardbird Years" (Fuel 2000, 2002) A primer in where Beck came from, with more than a few hints of where he'd end up going.
-- Jeff Miers
WHEN: 8 tonight
WHERE: University at Buffalo Center for the Arts
TICKETS: Sold out