Jeff Beck and guests, Royal Festival Hall, London

Gavin Martin
Wednesday 01 January 2014 04:35
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This three-night stint at the Festival Hall is a rare live outing for Jeff Beck, but the largely reclusive genius of Britrock guitar takes to the stage with the glee of a teenager. Dressed in black vest, displaying a muscular physique, he has his white Stratocaster slung low on his hip as he grins, chews gum and unleashes a fusillade of diamond-cutting riffs.

With his pudding-basin haircut unchanged since he first wrought several shades of six-stringed mayhem with the Yardbirds, it's hard to forget that Jeff was the role model for Christopher Guest's Nigel Tufnel in seminal rock comedy This Is Spinal Tap. The back projection – archive photos of Beck in his pomp or relaxing at home with his prized vintage hot rods – underlines the connection. But in a selection from his two outstanding recent albums Who Else? and You Had it Coming, he combines his hobby and his art in a way that would have Tufnel scratching his head in disbelief.

Beck's flashy technique and sharp changes of gear provide customised thrills as his guitar replicates the sound of blaring horns or roaring engines. At one points he stops, orchestrating the band so that the musical bridge is provided by the sound of an old jalopy setting off on a race projected on the big screen. The sublime followed the ridiculous with his truly awesome rendition of Charles Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat".

Versatility and ability to stretch the parameters of any genre have always been Beck's calling card, and tonight is the perfect setting for him. Duelling with a percussionist, he unleashes mind-blowing modal scales, plays fat electric skank when the band dip into a loping reggae offbeat, and adds scorching New Age funk to computerised beats on a selection from his hip hop-inflected Guitar Shop album.

He's always been an enthusiastic sideman rather than a bandleader, so it's not surprising that Beck's choice of guest stars can be a bit wayward. The declamatory vocalist Imogen Heap and the turgid Roger Waters are the ice to his fire, and lukewarm water was the result. But he finds the perfect partners in the garage-blues duo the White Stripes, reactivating a selection of Yardbirds hits ("Evil-hearted You", "Heart Full Of Soul" and "Lost Woman") with zeal and menace.

Jack and Meg White looked vaguely embarrassed when they returned for the final all-star "Hi Ho Silver Lining" singalong, but their earlier contribution insured that Beck's generation-transcending vitality shone brightly.

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