Well, that was unexpected. Jeff Beck rolled into Tulsa this past Wednesday for the second date of his short 6 city tour. What we didn’t expect was that his incredibly talented band had added a second guitarist. That new addition turned out to be none other than Johnny Depp. The accomplished actor and musician (Hollywood Vampires), ended up sitting in for roughly the second half of the show. It was about as surreal a concert experience as I’ve ever had.
Jeff Beck shouldn’t need any introduction, as the guitarist has won 8 Grammy awards, and been a two time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (once with the Yardbirds, the other solo). Beck has constantly surrounded himself with top tier musicians throughout his storied career, and this tour was no exception. Playing alongside him were, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Rhonda Smith on bass, cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith and Wet Willie vocalist Jimmy Hall. Taking the Brady Theater stage a fashionable 35 minutes late, Beck initially led the band through a blistering instrumental set opening with “Space For Papa” and including Billy Cobham’s “Stratus,” Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “You Know You Know” and Lonnie Mack’s “Lonnie on the Move.” Beck’s style is as Eric Clapton once remarked, “with Jeff, it’s all in his hands”. Beck has developed a unique method of playing his signature Stratocaster, by plucking strings and manipulating the volume knob and tremolo to accentuate and create the sounds he seeks. Beck predominantly played center stage, frequently pacing back to stage right to tap an effect on his pedal board. The band roared through the mentioned songs and others with apparent ease, knocking out 10 songs before revealing the special guest.
Beck’s tour had opened in Kansas City the previous night, and somehow Johnny Depp’s appearance was kept a relative secret. Apparently there was some speculation from those that had heard about it, as well as the fact that there was an extra guitar amp set up on the side opposite of Beck. Still, in speaking with several of the staff, even many of the Brady Theater employees and security had no clue until Captain Jack Sparrow himself arrived. Beck and band had begun Link Wray’s “Rumble,” and as Depp took the stage with his Telecaster, a wave of recognition swelled through the audience, with a surge of people trying to make their way forward, cell phones in hand to capture a memory and any inch of space available just a bit closer. Concluding “Rumble,” the band took on John Lennon’s “Isolation” before Depp introduced his new original, “Heddy Lamar.” The song, based on the 30’s and 40’s Hollywood actress of the same name, was memorable. The song was a surprising highlight for me, and I found Depp’s vocals much better than I had expected. Veteran vocalist, Jimmy Hall stepped in soon after to lead the band through Stevie Wonder’s classic “Superstition,” before Beck’s memorable rendition of The Beatles “A Day in the Life.” The band encored with ZZ Top’s “Hey Mr. Millionaire” before taking their bows and heading out.
The question I’ve been asked the most following the show, was how was Depp’s sit in taken by fans obviously there to see Jeff Beck do a Jeff Beck set. The usual follow up question is, how was it, and how did he sound? To answer the first question, I’m sure it was a mixed reaction. There undoubtedly was a buzz during and after that can only be described as euphoric. I can’t say that I heard anyone grumbling, though I’m sure it occurred. As for how Depp played and sounded? Not bad at all. Again, his vocals were much better than I would have expected, though I don’t think his guitar was very high in the mix. It was obvious Depp had rehearsed with the band, and that this was no one off thing. I fully expect Depp will finish up the tour with Beck’s band, possibly even including the final date at the Hollywood Bowl with Rod Stewart. Regardless of the feedback, it was readily apparent that all parties, particularly Beck himself, as well as Depp, were having fun. Certainly can’t be bad for ticket sales either. As someone who had always wanted to see Jeff Beck live but hadn’t been able too yet, I enjoyed myself quite a bit. Incredible talent, a fabulous setlist and a fun surprise. Live music doesn’t get much better than that. http://jeffbeck.com