Pop & Hiss

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Live: Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck: brotherly love again

April 22, 2009 |  7:18 am


In the age of "Guitar Hero," in which anyone with a few hundred bucks to spend on a video-game system can feel like a world-class shredder in a matter of minutes, what's the real deal still have to offer?

For one, the living, breathing version doesn't necessarily burn out after it's been on for an extended period. British guitar god Jeff Beck, who's been making jaws drop for nearly half a century now, pointed up that happy fact at his stirring show Tuesday at the El Rey, the first of two sold-out nights, one that was as much a master class as entertainment experience.

In fact, a number of other high-profile guitar slingers, including the Paul McCartney Band's Rusty Anderson, looked on with regular-Joe (and Jane) fans in fascination, admiration, frustration and exhilaration at the full spectrum of possibilities Beck unleashed from his instrument of choice, a vintage white Fender Stratocaster.

Beck pulled a rainbow of sounds and effects from the guitar -- most without going near the foot pedals of the guitar switches on the floor, during the hour-and-45-minute set, which consisted far and away of instrumentals. Some were elegant ballads built on the utter purity of tone Beck can produce, others rock, blues, funk, progressive rock and jazz-inflected numbers.

Then he sent an already agog crowd into apoplexy when near the end he peeled off the instantly recognizable first few notes of Curtis Mayfield's 1960s spiritual "People Get Ready."

A bolt of electric anticipation shot through the SRO crowd. Sure enough, out from the wings stepped Rod Stewart, his onetime band mate, who strolled to the mike for an intensely beautiful reading of the song that was a pop hit for him and Beck in 1983.

The mid-eighties was the last time these onetime band mates appeared together onstage. Stewart was briefly the lead singer in the Jeff Beck Group in the sixties, and he and Beck reunited a decade and a half later for their elegant collaboration. They played a handful of shows together before Beck pulled out of a joint tour and the musicians had not performed together since.

This time, it was heartfelt smiles and bear hugs as Stewart greeted his new newly inducted fellow member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Perhaps the only thing larger than rock-star ego is jaw-dropping talent. "It is a privilege to be on stage with this guy," Stewart said. Having reconnected with a foil and partner every bit his equal, Stewart plumbed the R&B/soul depths that were once his stock-in-trade before the jet-setting party-boy persona usurped his musical ambition. Taking the lead from their master-of-restraint boss, keyboardist Jason Rebello, bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta kept the accompaniment on low boil rather than shifting into overdrive, making Stewart's raspy voice sound all the more earnest.

It's the kind of material ideally suited to him, far more so than the Great American Songbook stuff he's nonetheless made a mint off of in the last decade.

Stewart stuck around for a second number, "I Ain't Superstitious," from the days of the Jeff Beck Group. Seeing how they fed off one another's energy, you couldn't help but wish Stewart would spend more time -- maybe even tour -- with the guitar great.

People get ready, indeed.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times