Guitar god Jeff Beck returned to the State Theatre Saturday night with the same old hairdo, same old Stratocaster and a new vocalist.
Having obscure Southern rocker Jimmy Hall on lead vocals gave the performance a totally different, un-Beckian vibe. If Beck's 2011 performance at the State Theatre felt more like a recital than a rock concert, then Saturday's gig had more of a barroom vibe. Hall sang on nearly half the songs, which seemed unusual when Beck is known for playing concerts of primarily instrumental pieces.
Beck and Hall have a history. Best remembered as the voice of Wet Willie and the 1974 hit "Keep On Smilin,' " Hall shared concert bills with Beck back in the '60s, jammed with him in '70s and recorded vocals on five numbers on Beck's 1985 album "Flash."
While Hall is a fiery Southern soul rocker, seeing him with Beck is a bit like seeing David Coverdale with Jimmy Page. In other words, the singer and the guitarist are not in the same league.
Nonetheless, Beck, 70, was in fine form and spirits on what was the last night of his U.S. tour on Saturday. The veteran Brit hit the stage in full rock star glory — shades, sleeveless shirt and vest, glittery bracelet on his right wrist — playing the new "Loaded," which found him in the jazz-rock fusion style that turned around his career in the mid-1970s. On the ensuing instrumental, he played the melody line in four different styles — jazz, blues, heavy rock and heavy fusion — before tossing off his rock-star bracelet in mid-solo.
The two-time Rock Hall of Famer doesn't need to sing because his guitar playing is more expressive than most vocalists. He channeled Jimi Hendrix on "Little Wing" and "Foxy Lady" and B.B. King on "The Thrill Is Gone," taking one solo in King style and another in his own style, somehow managing to play clean but sound gritty at the same time.
With his finger picking and extensive use of the whammy bar, Beck is able to get pure, articulate and gorgeous tones from his Stratocaster. Nothing was more transcendent than his instrumental version of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" in which he sounded graceful, orchestral, raucous and magnificent. It was a perfect demonstration of his ability to play soft and hard in the same song and be equally compelling with both styles.
"Big Block" was quintessential heavy Beck, "Turn on Your Lovelight" was quintessential showy Beck as he played at 100 miles per hour and "Danny Boy" was quintessential elegant Beck, a gentle mix of country, blues and jazzy. But the dominant tenor of the 100-minute show was "let's boogie," as purveyed by Hall on the blues chestnut "Rollin' and Tumblin,' " the harmonica-fueled "Going Down" and Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." Hall was his soulful best on a revved up reading of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come."
But who came to hear Jimmy Hall?
Opening the concert was Billy Raffoul, 20, a Canadian with commendable electric guitar chops and an alluring voice that sounded like a cross between Joe Cocker and John Mellencamp with more oomph than either of them.