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Concert Review: Jeff Beck at Wolf Trap

Despite a newly revitalized career, Jeff Beck’s show at Wolf Trap last night felt, at least at first blush, like a time warp to the 80s. He emerged to greet a packed house in his signature (and quite ridiculous) getup of black vest, black track pants and white astronaut boots. Rhonda Smith, his prodigiously talented bassist, sported plenty of Aqua Net; drummer Narada Michael Walden, a sequined vest. And their first couple numbers traced the fusion-meets-prog form of hard rock that Beck basically invented, before ’80s icons like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai picked up the mantle.

But that tone. My God, that tone. You could plug 1,000 players into his rig and 999 couldn’t sound one note the way he did. For a player of his ability (and he’s mastered techniques that most players will never even try), he also shows admirable restraint. Over the 100-minute set, he never once overplayed, always offering exactly what the song—be it blues, jazz, metal or funk—called for. In fact, I’d argue that no one save perhaps BB King has a greater understanding of when not to play, and the art of using sustain and silence to coax emotion out of the guitar. Apart from a few lines sung by Smith, the set was free of vocals. And they were never missed, as Beck made his guitar sing—I mean that quite literally—time and time again, from his classic take on “People Get Ready” to “A Day in the Life” to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” played almost entirely with harmonics.

After hundreds of shows, it’s rare that I come away from one saying, “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” This was one of them.

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