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Jeff Beck w/ Billy Raffoul @ The Riverside Theater

May 22, 2015

May. 25, 2015
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Photo Credit: Sara Bill

“Electrifying” was a word that I had never used in almost 20 years of reviewing concerts. Apparently, I was saving it to describe former Yardbirds’ guitarist Jeff Beck’s May 22 set at the Riverside Theater.

Few lights still shine in the pantheon of early British blues-rockers. Peter Green self-immolated long ago, Jimmy Page largely sits on his Kennedy Center honors, and Eric Clapton has more or less retired in place. Only Beck, a fellow Yardbirds veteran with Clapton and Page, continues to shine, burning as brightly as the stage lights reflecting off of his various white custom Fender Stratocasters.

More than one legacy artist has discovered that an effective performance requires a killer backup band, and Beck has assembled one of the best. Drummer Jonathan Joseph, guitarist Nicholas Meier and vocalist Jimmy Hall bring an impressive depth and range to Beck’s performance. But the standout “sideman” is bassist Rhonda Smith, who virtually sets fire to the rhythm section with her impressively detailed performance.

Needless to say, a black-suited Beck, who turns 71 in June, remained the focal point of the evening, strolling and strutting around the stage while producing clean, complex and rapid-fire notes and riffs that ran the electric blues gamut from balladic to blistering. His guitar prowess was always hard to match, and it seems to have only improved with age.

The band’s 100-minute performance was loaded with Beck favorites, including “Loaded,” as well as “Nine,” “Hammerhead,” “Big Block” and “Why Give It Away.” Impressive covers of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and, especially, Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” brought the house down and the crowd to its feet.

Beck’s encore was surprisingly heartfelt, with an electric version of “Danny Boy” kicking it off. The evening’s closer, B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone,” dedicated to King, who died May 14, was an apt tribute to legendary bluesman and his influence on a generation of artists, including Beck. But in Beck’s case, it was good to see that the thrill was not only still there, but that it sounded better than ever.

Opening for Beck was solo artist Billy Raffoul from Leamington, Ontario. Utilizing a variety of guitars, the young Canadian rocker performed a 30-minute set of soulful turns on some original material, as well as a very engaging cover of The Beatles’ rarely heard “Anna.”


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