For music fans of a certain era, popular music was once dominated by one instrument above all others – the electric guitar. Sure, disco wasn’t that far removed from today’s EDM, and pop singers are always with us just like Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber are today.
But for these fans, music – real rock and roll music – comes from an electric guitar – not to mention blues and honky-tonk country music.
So it was with some nostalgia that several thousand old-school fans packed the Borgata Event Center Saturday to see two of the electric guitars most established and influential masters take the stage as blues legend Buddy Guy and rock legend Jeff Beck performed a double bill. Either one could have performed as a solo headliner, but to have both on the same bill resulted in about 2-and-a-half hours of guitar bliss – not bad for two septuagenarians.
The show started with an hour-long set by Guy who was appearing one week shy of his eightieth birthday. Considering that Guy began his career in the late 50’s, that’s a lot of shows under his belt.
For those who don’t know Buddy Guy, he is a longtime master of Chicago blues who is considered one of the most influential guitarists in history, especially for the bluesy British invasion rockers who dominated the rock charts in the 60’s and 70’s (like Jeff Beck for example). That influence got him inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
His storied career, however, doesn’t include a lot of standalone radio hits and singles – though he has put out several albums. He’s made his mark as an exciting live performer of blues standards, who, as he said during the performance, “knows how to make his guitar scream.”
Backed by his strong band, Guy filled the hour with standards such as “Hootchy Kootchy Man” (originally recorded by Muddy Waters) and his own album cut “Damn Right I Got the Blues.” And while the songs are important, at this point, Guy is much more about the intimacy he has with his audience. Guy stopped in between songs to talk and laugh with the audience frequently, and even took a tour through the crowd at one point with guitar in hand, actually performing in the aisles and surrounded by fans.
“I can’t shake your hand right now,” he told one fan. “I’m playing.”
Put simply, it was a love affair.
Which is also why Guy has teamed with Jeff Beck, who has pointed to Guy as a major influence on his own storied career. But if Guy’s set was a celebration of “old school” blues, Beck – even at 72 – has injected some serious youth into his 90-minute set (including encores).
Namely, he’s done it with new band members singer Rosie Bones and guitar player Carmen Vandenberg, with which he’s released the recent album “Loud Hailer.” Beck, of course doesn’t sing, and leaves that to Bones and band member and blues singer Jimmy Hall. The set featured a lot of cuts from the new album, filled with passionate protest songs that recall Beck’s early days in the 60’s – new and old at once.
Bones and Vandenberg are both English, attractive and talented 20 somethings that brought a lot of energy on stage, but the show centers on Beck who is quite simply a guitar virtuoso. You don’t need a lot of visual imagery on stage when Beck is playing. It’s like watching – or in this case listening to – a magician creating amazing illusions. You quite simply can’t figure out he does it. An instrumental version of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” – one of Beck’s encores – proved that perfectly. You could have sworn you heard Paul McCartney singing, but it was only Beck on guitar. How’d he do that?
And there’s also something amazing about Beck’s band – which includes Rhonda Smith on bass and Jonathan Joseph on drums. Beck and Guy’s summer tour is a short two-month affair of about 10 gigs. For the band then, their Borgata appearance wasn’t show 40 of a carefully choreographed tour. They honestly looked like they were having a lot of fun, surprising each other, and of course, all basking in admiration of Beck.
There were two particular highlights of Beck’s set. One was a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” which was originally recorded with Beck on guitar. The second came when Guy appeared on stage early in the set to exchange some blues licks with Beck.
Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck on stage and playing together. The Borgata Event Center has seen some great performers, but rarely two guitar gods together at the same time.
It gave you faith that there’s still a bright future ahead for guitar music.
Check out all Borgata’s entertainment lineup here.