Wit, Grit, and Wisdom

Jeff Beck. At the Arlington Theatre, Tuesday, September 26.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

Jeff-Beck.jpgNobody can make an electric guitar roar, sing, tease, and seduce like Jeff Beck can, especially when he’s on. When Beck showed up at the Arlington last week — the perennially mop-topped, irreverent pseudo adolescent at age 62 — he was more on than at any of his Bowl shows over the years. He supplied a fairly overpowering presence and one of the greatest rock shows we’re likely to see in town this year. Even after all these years, Beck blows everybody out of the room, making it seem that he still has the inside track on what makes this instrument so potentially powerful and eloquent. Using his fingers — no pick necessary — and hands with a remarkable deftness and delicacy, Beck manipulated his Stratocaster-and-Marshalls into unplumbed depths of nuance, expressive real estate he virtually owns.

He uses a whammy bar with alarming subtlety, attacks the strings from different angles, slips in slide passages (at one point creeping up into the stratospheric range, but elegantly), and can coax overtones. Maybe it’s the hot-rodder within, the enthusiasm for tinkering with vintage cars as much as — if not more than — being a public rock god, that gives him a keen appreciation of the detail work required to make machinery hum. And with ace bandmates like drummer Vinnie Coliuta — articulate rolling thunder — and topnotch keyboardist Jason Rebello (heard previously in town with Sting), Beck shone with extra finesse and fire.

Beck is in a nostalgic mood on this tour, leaping backward over recent albums in favor of material from such masterpieces as Blow by Blow and Wired. He played “Beck’s Bolero” and rock-jazz classics like “Freeway Jam,” “Led Boots,” and “Star Cycle.” Down and dirty but also scarily controlled vocalist Beth Hart belted out oldies like “You Shook Me” and “Going Down” with a rough tone, quivery vibrato, and wildcat charisma.

There’s a funny-funky track on 2003’s Jeff, “Grease Monkey,” on which a female voice sexily taunts, “Hey, grease monkey, show me what you got.” What this grease monkey’s got is the way of a true musical poet, on an instrument not usually known for much more than grease and hubris.

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