The beautiful art deco City National Grove of Anaheim was the site of a very special show featuring a rock and roll legend and a mega Hollywood star, joining forces to make beautiful music. There are many words that you could use to describe Jeff Beck; I prefer the word incomparable, as he has no equals. Yes, you could argue that there are many great guitarists out there today, but there is no one that has the chops and finesse of Mr. Beck. He moves smoothly from playing rock to the blues, and deftly into jazz with the adept touch of his “Magic Fingers.”
He is number five on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. He’s also a two-time member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; once as a member of the highly influential band The Yardbirds, and once again for his work as a solo artist.
One may ask, “Why is Jeff Beck playing with Johnny Depp?” Beck has said that Depp “came knocking on my dressing room door about five years ago and we haven’t stopped laughing since.” Beck has also explained that he found an unexpected co-conspirator in Johnny Depp and that they are “musical soulmates.” Depp is no stranger to rock and roll; he’s been in a number of bands going all the way back to the ’80s with his band Rock City Angels. In the early ‘90s, he formed a band called P with Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers fame.
Since 2012, he’s been playing the rock star pretty regularly with his buddies Alice Cooper and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry in a group called Hollywood Vampires. So, it shouldn’t be a big shock that he and Jeff Beck, being friends, decided to record an album together and they called it “18” because that’s how they said it made them feel to be playing together. You also should remember that Beck is an instrumentalist and tonight his singer was going to be Johnny Depp.
Mr. Beck walked on stage to a very warm reception, looking every inch the star that he is, along with his trademark shag hair and a white Stratocaster. His drummer began the familiar shuffling beat to “Freeway Jam,” a jazz fusion song off his 1975 landmark album “Blow by Blow.” The crowd responded as they recognized the classic riff. Beck is a well-known hot rod enthusiast, and one can’t but help imagine this tune was inspired by tooling down the highway at a high rate of speed.
A career-spanning set of songs was on the setlist with a selection of tunes off of the “18” album thrown in for good measure. Next up was the gritty rocker “Loose Cannon.” I have to say Beck’s band was tight; they were always watching Beck for his cues and knowing when to stay out of his way. On this tour, his band is bassist Rhonda Smith, drummer Anika Nilles, keyboardist Robert Stevenson, and just for the SoCal shows, cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith.
“18” features a number of cover songs and one that I really enjoyed and appreciated how Beck gave its own his spin was The Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No.” He gave it a rich, reverb-drenched, classic surf rock sound, and as it was being played, you didn’t miss that there is not a singer because his guitar playing is so vocal and lyrical all in itself. Beck took things into a kind of raunchy/bluesy direction for Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil Blues.” The songs “Star Cycle” and “Brush With the Blues” followed, and he closed the eleven-song first half with the beautiful and popular “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” a song given to him by Stevie Wonder.
Whoops and shouts greeted Depp as Beck introduced him by saying tongue-in-cheek that “Someone’s coming out to help me, cause I need help.” Depp looked good and happy to be there, and together they played the infamous Link Ray song “Rumble.”
This show was originally announced as a Jeff Beck-only affair, but once Depp signed on, it quickly sold out, which, in itself, is a testament to Depp’s popularity. Through all his tabloid troubles, Depp’s fans have stood steadfastly beside him. A few times during the show someone in the audience felt the need to shout “We love you, Johnny” bringing an ever-so-slight smile to his face.
Next was the first official single from the album, “This Is a Song for Miss Hedy Lamarr,” a song written by Depp as an ode to the Hollywood actor and inventor Hedy Lamarr, whom Depp feels a kindred spirit with. Its opening line of “This is a song for Miss Hedy Lamarr, erased by the same world that made her a star” and its chorus of “I don’t believe in humans anymore,” appears to be Depp’s statement on the Hollywood machine, which builds you up and puts you on a pedestal only to tear you back down again.
Following in the same theme of disillusionment by the trappings of fame was the first song Beck and Depp recorded together back in 2020, a cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation.” Depp’s voice, though not a notable singer, has a gentle baritone which suits the song well. As a guitar player, he does his job as a rhythm player and lets Beck do what he does best. Many times, you could see the two make eye contact and give each other an encouraging nod or smile. A couple more tunes from “18” followed: the Dennis Wilson song “Time,” and a ballsy Velvet Underground cover of “Venus in Furs.”
Beck returned to center stage for an amazing performance of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” with his signature style of playing the vocal melody on the guitar of “I read the news today, oh boy.” It was truly a highlight of the show for me. They all left the stage as the lights went down and the crowd yelled for more.
Beck and the band returned to play a touching rendition of the traditional Christmas hymn “Corpus Christi Carol” followed by a well-appreciated cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” Depp joined the band on stage to help close out the show by singing for their cover of Killing Joke’s “The Death and Resurrection Show.”
It was an exemplary show given before an appreciative audience. This pairing up of two friends was obviously a mutually beneficial arrangement, giving Beck a little more attention than he’s recently been receiving and letting Depp spread his wings a little after all he’s been through these past few years.