The tiptoe concert experience awaits anyone attending a seat-deficient venue. But it's one thing to find oneself en pointe occasionally say, to spy a singer's face and quite another to make a performance-long work of it. To stay painfully transfixed, in other words, ensuring one doesn't miss a second of the handiwork of a virtuoso Fender-bender.
To wit, Jeff Beck made several guitars bend to his will Wednesday night, creating a hour-and-a-half-long sonic kaleidoscope at The Depot in Salt Lake City.
Strolling lithely onstage, casually attired in a sleeveless shirt, Beck along with keyboardist Jason Rebello, bass player Rhonda Smith and drummer Narada Michael Walden treated a sold-out crowd to a fusion of funk, jazz, rock and much else besides.
By the time percussion-driven "Constipated Duck" and "Led Boots" gave way to the lyrical "Corpus Christi Carol," it was clear the audience was ready to howl approvingly at the slightest beckoning of the guitarist's hand.
Which isn't to say the adoration was undeserved.
With his unmistakeable, pick-free fingerwork, which couldn't have seemed more effortless, Beck teased out melody after melody by way of notes of every length and speed imaginable.
Smith, who has been a perennial favorite of Prince, plucked and thumped away energetically in a series of scene-stealing bass solos, and lent her rancorous voice and propulsive breath to several songs most notably, the blues gem "Rollin' and Tumblin'."
Time and again, Walden made it clear he had no intention of drumming gently into that spotlit night. In fact, his considerable skills and power as timekeeper seemed to threaten to push him into the black hole that lies just beyond the peak of physical exertion.
But while his drumsticks were always a boon to the compositions, the same couldn't be said of his singing, which constituted the evening's one conspicuous misstep. With Beck doing a rather faithful rendition of "Little Wing," Walden's ill-suited vocals made one pine for either the voodoo child himself or no voice at all.
Rebello's keyboards, meanwhile, provided plenty of alluring contributions, not the least of which was a sharp solo in the crowd-stirring "People Get Ready."
Of course, regardless of the collaborative work happening onstage, Beck was the unrivaled attention-getter. His ability to draw a piercing kind of beauty from two melody-driven tunes ("Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "A Day in a Life"), for instance, seemed to make the audience swoon. Then, for an encore, he added heat to the fans' flickering flames with the clapalong-inducing "I Want to Take You Higher," a rockabilly homage to Les Paul, "How High the Moon" (performed, somewhat strangely, with piped-in vocals), and a rivetting "Nessun Dorma."
Where energy is duly and truly in the musicianship, no chatter or banter are necessary. To call Beck laconic would be an understatement. And yet he and his band said just about all that needed to be said.
Giving one's toes a workout is a small price to pay for seeing a link to musical tradition who, quite possibly, is still on his way up.
Review: Jeff Beck
A legendary guitar hero shows off his notes, backed by a collaborative band.
With • Keyboardist Jason Rebello, bass player Rhonda Smith and drummer Narada Michael Walden
Where • The Depot
When • Wednesday