Blues legend Guy (who turns 80 on July 30) had the PNC Bank Arts Center crowd in his hands from the start. He kept everyone involved in the action, peppering his comments on the blues with some choice f-bombs in between classics such as his “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues” and Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years.” During a pause, Guy shared his philosophy with the audience: “Be what you want to be as long as you let me be what I want to be.” This prompted some raucous cheers.
Guy continued to milk reactions from the devoted (but far from sold-out) crowd of aficionados. “I’m a bluesman,” he yelled out to the audience, which responded with thunderous applause. “I’m trying to keep the blues alive.” He followed with interpretations of classics made famous by contemporaries Muddy Waters (the Willie Dixon-penned “She’s Nineteen Years Old” and “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”) and John Lee Hooker (“Boom Boom”).
At one point, Guy strode from one edge of the stage to the other, playing in a spotlight. He then walked through the first few dozen rows of the audience, strumming and schmoozing with the near-hysterical fans.
On a blistering version of the Dixon-written “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” Guy even added a few bars from the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Purple Haze” to the mix. Noting the concert’s time restraints (he could have probably played all night), Guy closed his set with a soulful version of the title tune from his 2008 album, Skin Deep. He’s keeping the blues alive, for sure.
Headliner Beck, at 72, never seems to want to slow down. And on this night, he mixed and fused some brash blues classics with rock, soul and even a soupçon of hip-hop.
Beck began his evening with “The Revolution Will Be Televised,” from his excellent (and at times dark) new album, Loud Hailer, as flashing lights and an illuminated bullhorn (carried through the audience by singer Rosie Bones) set the atmosphere. “Live in the Dark,” “O.I.L. (Can’t Get Enough of That Sticky)” and “Scared for the Children” were also standouts from his first new studio recording in six years.
He swayed the crowd with classic renditions of signatures “Freeway Jam,” “Big Block” and “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers.” A stellar version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “You Know You Know” featured Beck’s guitar pyrotechnics, drummer Jonathan Joseph’s hyperbolic fills and bassist Rhonda Smith’s plucky solo.
Bones was nothing less than stunning on the new songs; she exudes the purring vocal delivery of a young Eartha Kitt merged with a hip-hop sensibility. The other vocalist in Beck’s band was former Wet Willie singer Jimmy Hall, who provided the heavy lifting on covers of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Superstition” and Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew” with a wonderful controlled fury.
Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” was another highlight, with Hall providing soulful vocal embellishment. Beck also performed Lonnie Mack’s “Lonnie on the Move” as a tribute to the blues-rock singer-guitarist who died earlier this year.
“Right Now” closed the set with a funky rap vocal by Bones — an odd choice, but it worked. Beck is not known for playing it safe, and he took some chances with the new material on this night. For his solo encore, he went with a bona fide classic: a touching version of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”
Guy’s roadhouse-blues flash combined with Beck’s stirring rock-blues-jazz mixture was a heady experience, to say the least.
— By Donald Gavron
Jeff Beck photographed in 2013 by Chris M. Junior