Sound: Les Paul’s influence on scores of guitarists is undeniable, and the late innovator’s passing drove that point home even more when notable axe men from every genre spoke of his influence on their individual playing. It seems only fitting that arguably one of the most groundbreaking guitarists in his own right, Jeff Beck, stepped up to help create a concert commemorating Paul’s musical legacy. The show, billed as A Celebration of Les Paul and sponsored by Gibson, took place at New York City’s Iridium Jazz Club, where Paul performed regularly up until the last years of his life. With the help of such artists as the Imelda May Band, guitarist/vocalist Brian Setzer, as well as Gary U.S. Bonds and Trombone Shorty, Beck brings new life to 27 classic tracks, many of which were made famous by the dynamic duo of Les Paul and Mary Ford. That show, recorded on what would have been on Paul’s 95th birthday, can now be viewed on the DVD/Blu-ray Jeff Beck les paul Rock N’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul. The vintage essence heard on many of those early Paul/Ford numbers is captured beautifully, particularly due to the selection of the performers. Vocalist Imelda May chose to pre-record many of her backing harmonies, effectively mimicking the complex, Andrew Sisters-like sound that Ford created. The back-and-forth play between May and Beck on such numbers like Poor Boy, How High The Moon, Bye Bye Blues, and Tiger Rag is both engaging and fascinating to watch. Director Milton Lage also needs to be given a big pat on the back because his crew did not skimp on getting close-ups of Beck’s solo work fingerpicking intricacies and all. Musically the entire DVD does feel like a slice out of the 50’s, which of course is perfectly suited for guest stars like Brian Setzer. While Setzer is only featured on two tracks (Twenty Flight Rock and Shake, Rattle, and Roll), the Stray Cat’s sleek soloing skills still sound impeccable on that classic Gretsch. Darrel Higham of the Imelda May Band deserves just as much credit for recreating the Elvis Presley-like style, vibrato, and groove to a tee on songs like Baby Let’s Play House and Train Kept A Rollin.’
Content: Jeff Beck’s Rock N’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul is a 164-minute DVD that is just as much for Beck devotees as those interested in Paul himself. While the concert itself is certainly a polished, impressive tribute to Les Paul, in the same token it’s a geek-out fest for anyone interested in a close-up-and-personal look at Beck’s soloing style. The extras take that idea a step further with an in-depth Beck interview and a look at his guitars. For the Les Paul fanatics, there is a fantastic clip called Les Paul and his Little Black Box (otherwise known as the Les PaulVerizer) in which the legend describes the invention that can multiply anything, such as a guitar, fed into it. It’s in this particular moment you get to see all the best of Les Paul in one: his technology, his playing, and his charisma.
Production Quality: The video does have the clarity that only high definition can deliver, with the editing style being a straightforward one. There aren’t too many artsy shots and the most important aspect the close-ups of Beck’s solos are tackled beautifully. The one problem that arises during the entire DVD is that in between songs the vocal mic seems almost nonexistent for anyone trying to describe the title or story behind a track. This was obviously an in-house issue during the show that probably didn’t seem important enough to dub over in post, but it is somewhat distracting.
Overall Impression: The execution of the 20 songs on Jeff Beck’s Rock N’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul, as you might expect, is impeccable. If rockabilly or old school rock is not your thing, then these 27 songs may wear on you after awhile. It’s hard not to at least appreciate both the showmanship and talent of the musicians onstage, however, and it’s absolutely a fitting tribute to a man who spent the majority of his life performing setlists like the one heard on the new DVD.