Rant ‘N’ Roll: Jeff Beck Is A Beach Boy

BETHLEHEM, PENNSYLVANIA—The Sands Entertainment Center is packed. Anticipation for what we are about to witness is palpable. When news of Jeff Beck’s pairing with Brian Wilson was first announced, all anyone could do is scratch their heads. Now that it was about to unfold, we couldn’t wait. As it turned out, the match, as oddball as it might seem at first, is a pairing made in rock ‘n’ roll heaven.

Let me be perfectly clear. What we witnessed was, indeed, The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson cannot use the name for legal reasons because of the evil Mike Love who parades around with his feel-good jukebox of a Beach Boys approximation but make no mistake about it: Brian Wilson is The Beach Boys. (The ironically named Love loves the legal system enough to constantly sue his cousin Brian.) And on this night, with original members Al Jardine and David Marks, and a big-band of harmony singers extraordinaire on songs that Brian wrote—yeah, yeah, yeah, Mike Love co-wrote some of ‘em…so what—like “California Girls,” “Do It Again,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Sail On Sailor,” “Heroes & Villains” (the Smile version), “Marcella,” “God Only Knows,” “Sloop John B,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “I Get Around,” “Good Vibrations,” “Fun Fun Fun” and five more, you can bet your sweet ass that this was The Beach Boys in all their glory. And we were all kids again.

Sure, there’s a certain amount of nostalgia inherent in the proposition of even being in the same room with the damaged genius Wilson and his fragile eggshell psyche. He was helped around the stage like Ray Charles but the outpouring of love for this man brought a lump to the throat. Plus, these new arrangements are so crystalline in their every nuance, the bass pumped up, the intricacies of the harmonic inventions even more pronounced, that had we never even heard this material, it still would have been unbelievable. But we, of course, had. And these tunes are inextricably bound into the DNA of most baby boomers.

Jeff Beck came out after a short intermission with a jazz-rock fusion combo for the ages featuring the incredible violin player Lizzie Ball. Beck’s virtuosity was constantly on display in a jaw-dropping 15-song set that included Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” the 1959 Charles Mingus jazz classic “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” the Les Paul version of “How High The Moon,” Lennon/McCartney’s “A Day In The Life,” an absolutely stunning rework of the 1929 blues gem “Rollin’ And Tumblin’,” by Hambone Willie Newbern, that’s been recorded hundreds of times by everyone from Muddy Waters to Beck’s old band, The Yardbirds.

Beck turned into a Beach Boy when Wilson, Jardine, Marks and company re-entered and those eight-part harmonies flew fast and high on “Barbara Ann,” Surfin’ USA” and others, complete with Beck being Beck, letting loose a torrent of speed-fire riffs that tore into the nostalgia aspect, ripping it apart with modern finesse and total balls.

The night ended fittingly for such seemingly strange bedfellows as Beck and Wilson: how ‘bout a grand sweeping prog-rock version of the 1910 Irish chestnut “Danny Boy?” And it worked.

Upcoming at the Sands for the rest of year are Kevin James Nov. 7, Frankie Valli Nov. 9, “50 Shades: The Musical” Nov. 10, Paramore Metric & Hellogoodbye Nov. 11, “America’s Got Talent” Nov. 13, All-Star Boxing Nov. 16, Il Divo Nov. 19, Weezer Nov. 23, Korn/Rob Zombie Nov. 26, Trace Adkins Nov. 29, Megadeth/Fear Factory/Nonpoint Nov. 30 and Larry The Cable Guy Dec. 28.