By Jim Simpson
The set included Tiny Bradshaw’s “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” made into a rockabilly classic by Johnny Burnette. May’s version was a sly salute to headliner Jeff Beck, as the Yardbirds covered the song in 1965. May and her tight band also covered Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” a hard-edged version with impromptu audience participation.
May mentioned their “21-hour bus trip to get here” to rousing applause before launching into “Mayhem” as well as “Big Bad Handsome Man” from her Love Tattoo album. Also from that album was “What You Gonna Do?”, a raucous rocker that brought the sweaty crowd to its feet. “You like that one?” Imelda screamed. “I’m just a feisty Irish woman!” The set ended (much too soon) with “Johnny Got A Boom-Boom,” also from Love Tattoo.
Jeff Beck took the stage looking like an alien superhero in a black-and-white sleeveless jumpsuit, wide silver arm bracelets, white space boots, and slinging his signature white Stratocaster. He ran through some of his latest jazz/rock fusion numbers, but things didn’t get really interesting until he covered Sly Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher” with the iconic “BOOM shaka-laka-laka BOOM shaka-laka-laka”. The amazing bassist Rhonda Smith contributed greatly to the funk.
Beck displayed his legendary guitar virtuosity throughout, especially on “Hammerhead” (in homage to his friend, keyboardist and “Miami Vice Theme” songwriter, Jan Hammer) from his latest album, Emotion & Commotion. Highlights also included a passionate version of “People Get Ready” and a gorgeous and masterfully subtle rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”
Beck spoke only twice to introduce the other musicians, but said plenty through his guitars, alternating between the white Strat and a classic Telecaster on the more bluesy numbers. When a drunk guy in the front row who kept waving and yelling at Beck was finally escorted from the venue by security, Beck shuffled behind him, playing the guy off with a grin and a wah-wah flourish.
Beck appeared genuinely moved by a lengthy ovation, and then brought Imelda May back for an encore that included a stunning “Lilac Wine,” also from Emotion & Commotion, after which Beck said to May, “How dare you do that to me. You always make me cry.” May seemed to have captured Beck, as well as the crowd, with her commanding voice. Beck brought out his Gibson Les Paul for the finale “How High the Moon,” a jazz standard popularized by Les Paul & Mary Ford that Beck and May performed at this year’s Grammy Award ceremonies.
It was nice to see the generational juxtaposition: Jeff Beck is a legend and worthy member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, while Imelda May is an up-and-coming star with a powerful and emotionally compelling voice. Her newest release is scheduled for September.