Jeff Beck, Jan Hammer and Band
20th June 2004
The City Hall, Newcastle, UK
It's a Silver Lining for the Vice Man
Little information regarding the band was made available prior to the 2004 UK Tour, however the announcement that Jan Hammer would be touring with Jeff Beck for (almost) the first time in the UK was the cherry on the cake for me. Not only was I to hear one of the guitars living legends but joined by one the most innovative keyboard players around. The rhythm section comprised of the awesome Mondesir brothers Mike (bass) and Mark (drums).
Support for the evening was singer/songwriter Amy Wadge accompanied by Brian Kennedy. A simple set-up with Wadge (pronounced Wodge) playing acoustic guitars, piano and vocals and Kennedy supporting with some tasty bass parts. The bulk of the material taken from Amy's debut CD "Woj". Amy's command of the guitar was striking as she combined delayed effects to give the sound drive and flow. Her voice was delicate and perhaps a little fragile but it worked well with her material. All of which served as a engaging precursor to the main event.
Newcastle was the third date in this mini UK tour and the band seemed relaxed as they sauntered across the stage to their relative positions.
No fanfares or elongated intro's welcomed the band on stage, just a huge roar from the near sell-out crowd. The opening piece and if memory serves me was a track written by John McLaughlin One Word, a mid tempo track which allowed the band to ease into the set. More familiar territory followed with Star Cycle (what a great track) and the band were cooking already. As Jan Hammer opened up with that distinctive synth line, yet another huge roar, with the band firstly punctuating the start and then the track moves into its distinctive groove. The interplay between Hammer and Beck is immediate, borne from years of musical collaborations. Here I drifted back to the last time I heard this track live when Simon Phillips was sat behind the kit. Mark Mondesir had the same grasp of the piece and proved more than up to the task and in fact, as the set progressed, his totally awesome playing became more apparent, especially in the Billy Cobham track Stratus. I often think back to the concert and Mark's performance still brings a smile to my face. Brother Mike was equally inspiring on the bass forming a formidable rhythm section and wonderful backdrop for Beck and Hammer.
For those readers unfamiliar with the music of Jeff Beck (shame on you), or perhaps remember his millstone hit, or believe him to be some aging blues man, think again. Granted blues plays a major part in Jeff's playing, but this is encompassed in a unique concoction of rock, jazz rock and progessive fusion that is totally absorbing. Tracks (played on the night) such as The Pump, Led Boots and Stratus just took your breath away. In between the footstompers like Blue Wind were those more delicate moments with the wonderful Goodbye Pork Pie Hat - time then perhaps for my usual gripe ;0( As is customary at the City Hall the "village idiot" was there in all his glory shouting and yelling at any point his voice could be heard above the music - to my horror, on this occasion, he was sat next to me. Fortunately as I hadn't spent the last hour or so in the bar consuming huge amounts of ale, my enjoyment of the concert was confined to generous applause only at the ending of each piece. This seemed to irritate my "friend" who then accused me of being totally boring, or words to that effect, and moved away. Not only an astute chap but thoughtful - maybe he wasn't that bad after all !
Sorry about that. Other tracks played on the night (and in no particular order) were : Freeway Jam, Roy's Toy's, Nadia, Brush With The Blues, Daylight Robbery, Even Odds, Angel (Footsteps), Where Were You & Big Block - apologies if I missed some. Along with these was an acoustic guitar version of Voyage Home, great instrumental versions of People Get Ready and the Beatles a Day In The Life, which showed that Jeff can perform the melodic guitar solos equally as well. And then there was the bizarre episode, somewhat like a pork sandwich at a Bar Mitzvah, when a rather attractive tall blonde lady in full evening dress stepped up to the mic to sing Cry Me A River. The mystery blonde turned out to be Nancy Sorrell aka Vic Reeves' wife - and quite why it was included escapes me.
Now in all this I've hardly mentioned Jan Hammer. He sat all evening behind a single keyboard extracting sounds from this lone instrument that many a keyboard player would be proud to extract from a bank of such instruments. He never missed a beat as the sounds changed, often numerous times with a piece, as he moved from solo sounds to chord pads. Also their were the wonderful lead sounds that hark back to his days with Mahavishnu and his understanding of guitar techniques often meant that you had to look twice in the QA solos. To top all this of he made it look so easy - a pleasure to watch and more often than not stealing the show.
Note of the stage which also had a number of video cameras dotted around which were used to project images onto a oval screen, which then flicked (sensibly) between the band members capturing solo sections - or mixed to show Jeff and Jan as the duelled out some of their lead lines. Nice also to see what was happening around Mark Mondesir's kit whilst hearing it - nice touch. The lighting was equally impressive with the normal stage effects enhanced by an array of "intelligent" lighting, although the programming was somewhat awry, noted not only by myself and friends, but by Jan Hammer who pointed out to the 'LD' that a blackout at the end of the song might look good ;0). The sound was also crystal clear, no complaints for a change.
This was a truly memorable evening with four truly amazing musicians - Jan Hammer was something to behold, as were the Mondesir brothers and Jeff, well he was Jeff Beck. Come back soon!